Harnessing the Wind

As Companies around the world work to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and “green” their energy consumption, many are looking to buy electricity from producers of renewable energy. They are finding willing partners in Alberta.

Some, like Amazon, are turning to solar, with the e-commerce giant agreeing to purchase 80 per cent of the power from the $700 million, 465-megawatt Travers Solar Project, southeast of Calgary.

Solar energy only accounted for 0.2 per cent of all electricity generated in Alberta in 2020; by 2023, that number is expected to hit 6.1 per cent. That’s a massive increase.

Others are turning to wind. In November, tech giant Microsoft announced a 15-year deal to buy 543 GWh worth of wind power each year from the Paintearth Wind Project in southeastern Alberta. Construction started in September 2022 and the project is expected to be operating by the end of 2023. 

Wind will account for 14 per cent of the electricity generated in Alberta by 2023.

They’re just two examples of the fast-moving trend of businesses harnessing southern Alberta’s steady winds and long sunlight hours to contribute to a renewable energy boom. 

Six major wind farms now under construction in Southeast Alberta will produce about 1,400 MW of power.

“Southern Alberta is really ground zero at the moment for the buildout of clean energy production,” says Jon Sookocheff, director of business development at Invest Medicine Hat. He says the region has about $1 billion CAD worth of renewable energy projects under construction. This investment will further green Alberta’s grid, reducing the GHG emissions of any business consuming that electricity.

The boom is drawing attention beyond Alberta’s borders. A feature story in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper in October 2022 called the Highway 3 route, a major highway run-ning east to west in southwest Alberta, the province’s “energy transition corridor” and Canada’s “unlikely green power hotspot,” with wind and solar farms dotting the landscape.

Apart from the abundant natural resources, Alberta’s deregulated energy industry allows energy producers to sign power-purchase agreements directly with consumers, providing an opportunity that is unique in Canada.

Much of the new wind development is taking place in the Special Areas of the Palliser Economic Region in the province’s southeast, a predominantly rural area covering more than 20,000 square kilometres.

Jordon Christianson, Chair of the Special Areas Board, counts six major wind projects under construction within the Special Areas. Combined, he says the wind farms of Lanfine, Sharp Hills, Garden Plains, Hand Hills, Jenner and Buffalo Atlee will produce about 1,400 MW of power.

Christianson says that after working with developers for “many, many years,” the talks turned into action almost overnight, with a flood of development applications being submitted in the fall of 2021.

A solar wave is also building, with talks underway for four major projects in the Special Areas that Christianson expects will apply for development permits by fall of 2023. All told, Alberta is set to double the amount of renewable power generated in the province in the next year and a half.

Theresa Hardiker is the executive director of Verge Economic Development, which links local businesses to big renewable projects, hosts job fairs and does economic impact reports in Alberta’s southeast. She says innovation is keeping the renewables industry interesting in Alberta, and that a proposed battery storage facility could be a “game changer,” solving one of the most common complaints with renewable energy.

“There’s a changing attitude towards it, and that’s where the innovation and the economic spinoff will come from,” Hardiker says.