Alberta's renewables procurement industry may be on the cusp of rapid growth

Alberta has big potential when it comes to providing renewable energy, advocates say.

The Pembina Institute says the practice of corporations committing to buy renewable energy is just taking off in Canada, and Alberta has both the energy sector and the skilled workforce to provide it.

Earlier this week, a company owned by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett announced a large new wind farm near Medicine Hat. It has a buyer for the power.

Sara Hastings-Simon, director of the Pembina's Business Renewables Centre, says this is part of a trend.

"We're talking about the practice of corporate institutions purchasing renewables to meet their own electricity demand. And this is a really well-established driver for renewable energy development in the U.S.," she said. "You may be hearing headlines like Google, Apple and others that are buying renewables and we're helping to bring this practice to Canada."

The Business Renewables Centre (BRC) is a not-for-profit working to accelerate corporate and institutional procurement of renewables in Canada. The group held its inaugural all members event in Calgary on Thursday.

Hastings-Simon says shareholders and investors are encouraging more use of solar and wind energy.

With the cost of renewables falling, she says it makes sense for companies to invest and lock in power prices.

"We have over 10 gigawatts of renewable energy projects in the pipeline that are ready for buyers. And so we see multinational companies coming to Canada to start to procure here, as well as Canadian companies understanding that this is an opportunity for them as well," Hastings-Simon said.

"It's really exciting to see business interests driving renewable energy development."

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Hastings-Simon says renewable procurement could help dispel the narrative that it's all about oil and gas in Alberta.

She says the practice started with a handful of tech companies in the U.S. and has become more mainstream there, with more and more large companies wanting to reduce their energy footprint.

Mark Porter, a director at the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, attended Thursday's meeting.

He says his U.S.-based organization has been working for years to speed up and expand the renewables market for companies that want to address their own sustainability.

"We try and make that a little bit easier by building out a community that can help to really reinforce each other, share lessons learned, best practices and then drive for transactions to have actual material impact worldwide," he said.

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"We're really excited to be working with the Pembina group and the BRC Canada team," he said. "We feel our best value for this is just to support them with our experiences and lessons. They've been basically doing the same thing for many years helping to grow and grow and cultivate the market."

Porter says Alberta's market is more than ready. 

"There are some precedent transactions already so people know it can work," he said. "The way Alberta is structured, being an energy-only market is useful. And I think that there is a strong ecosystem of both budget developers and service providers … that can really help these transactions get over the line."

As procurement ramps up, Hastings-Simon says Alberta already has the skilled workers needed to fill jobs.

"We have a lot of the knowledge that's needed, and that's everybody from the construction down through the legal and financing — all those pieces of building big projects," she said. "We are seeing increasing interest in people that want to become involved in that industry, and so there is increasing demand for training in things like solar installation and wind technicians."

Hastings-Simon predicts an increase in demand for both the services and the workers.

"As this industry ramps up, we're going to need to have more workers that are active in those areas," she said. "So I think we can see a very nice increase — both the demand and the number of folks that are able to work in this field."