Electricity – just the word itself charges emotions in Alberta right now, and small wonder.
Nuclear reactors in the Peace country, massive transmission lines in central Alberta, legislation taking power line approvals out of the public process – each on its own would be controversial enough, but in this province, they’ve become a triple threat.
Up north, where Ontario’s Bruce Power is running a massive public relations campaign to convince residents of the benefits nuclear power represents, communities have cleaved into three well defined camps: pro, con and disbelieving. There is little common ground between the camps.
Farther south, farmers have marked a line in their fields, protesting plans to construct massive power pylons between Edmonton and Calgary.
And throughout the province, average Albertans are starting to question the wisdom of giving the province absolute authority over where and when to build new transmission lines without having to take the projects to the public.
All three are driven by the belief Alberta will shortly be in need of increased supply and distribution networks. Existing transmission lines are saturated, say proponents. Generation facilities are disappearing faster than they are created and the province needs the ability to push projects through if deemed to be in the best interests of the province. Something has to be done.
But not this.
Nuclear power plants, new transmission lines, new regulatory powers – all three are predicated on Alberta’s consumption of electricity increasing into the future. And each, in its own way, is an enabler, making it possible for Albertans to avoid taking responsibility for unchecked consumption.
If that’s the way it plays out, Alberta will be the poorer for it.
There is a strong argument to be made that reducing our consumption at a personal level would reduce the burden on the existing infrastructure, allowing the province to implement replacement and upgrading programs.
Nor do such reductions need to be unusually hard. Starting simple can help.
Weatherproof your home, particularly in the winter. Lower the thermostat two degrees. Turn off your air conditioner and use natural airflow and curtains to keep your home cool. Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Replace your furnace filter on a regular basis.
It doesn’t seem like much, but organizations like the Pembina Institute estimate such simple changes at the personal level could delay the need for new generation and transmission facilities for more than a decade.
If true, such an approach would give us all an opportunity to approach changes with a longer view of our future.
And Alberta would be the richer for that.