When thinking about energy in Alberta, oil comes to mind. Within my first two months in the University of Alberta’s engineering program, I have already applied for a position at a mock-oil company, and, over the last few years , I’ve skimmed countless feisty Greenpeace articles about Alberta’s oil production. I found it surprising that in 2014 55% of Alberta’s electricity generation originated from coal – especially after all the hype associated with oil. This is peculiar: Alberta, Canada’s oil capital, generates more electricity from coal than oil. I guess there is more to Energy in Alberta than I had initially thought.
In case you haven't heard much about coal, here’s some pertinent info. It is often considered the “dirtiest” major energy source. It’s labelled as such for two reasons. Firstly,because of its high-carbon composition, it releases the most CO2 when combusted in addition to other pollutants such as mercury, nitrogen, sulfur (which causes acid rain), and smog. Secondly, it is estimated that 60% of water used in Canada is consumed by coal and nuclear power plants. To put that into perspective, municipal use accounts for about 10% of water consumption in Canada. So Coal and Nuclear plants use six times as much water as all of the households, stores, public buildings and manufacturing plants in all of Canada each year.
The point of this article isn't to make coal scare you. Rather, it’s to inquire: why don't we hear more about Coal in Alberta? From my research I have found it to be significantly more damaging to the environment, so a logical answer evades me. Yet, time after time, oil is the focus of media, and organizations like Greenpeace. I don’t understand it. I hope that with further discussion and awareness about coal in Alberta, change will come. This change is not impossible to achieve. To put things in perspective, Ontario and Alberta were Canada’s largest consumers of coal in 1997. Ontario’s been coal free since 2014; they don’t have enormous oil reserves to be used for energy, like Alberta does.
To end on an interesting aside, Edmonton’s world-class composting facility was significantly subsidized by a coal company that required more soil to replace the soil eroded because of the activities of coal mining.
Thank you for your time in reading this!
P.S. In case you don't believe me with the 55% coal thing:
Straight from Alberta Energy’s Website
Alberta's Electricity Generation - 2014