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Green Energy in Alberta

One advantage of switching to an energy marketer for your energy supply is the possibility to choose "green" alternatives. However, this usually involves paying a slightly higher cost for your energy. Is it worth it?

What is a Green Power Contract?

The term 'green energy' refers to energy (usually electricity) that is generated from sources that generate minimal negative environmental impacts and produce low levels of pollution in particular. A green energy contract guarantees that the consumer's energy consumption is matched by equivalent amounts of green energy that is injected into the grid.

Green Energy and Renewable Energy: the same thing?

While in some cases a renewable energy source can be considered 'green', the term 'renewable' should not be automatically taken as a synonym for green. Each power source produces different environmental impacts, with some sources producing fewer environmental costs than others. For example, while biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel come from renewable sources, the effects of their production on land use, biodiversity, and carbon emissions make them controversial. Similarly, large-scale hydropower facilities can produce renewable electricity, but also involve environmental trade-offs in terms of land use and fisheries.

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Green energy is a subset of renewable energy; only renewable energy sources that provide the least negative environmental impacts can be considered 'green'

What Types of Energy are Green?

While all types of energy generation impact the environment, "green" energy refers to renewable energy sources that have the lightest negative environmental impact compared to traditional energy sources. These include electricity produced from low-impact hydroelectric sources, biogas, some biomass, solar, and wind sources.

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Did you know?
Alberta's micro-generation policy facilitates the development of small-scale green electricity generation in the province.

Green Power Contracts: How do they work?

In most cases, when you purchase a green energy contract, your energy supplier will purchase and retire on your behalf renewable energy certificates that correspond to your power consumption. Renewable energy certificates (REC) are non-tangible, tradable commodities that represent the positive environmental effects of green energy generation. One REC is equivalent to one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity.

Will my home be supplied by green energy?

Unfortunately, in most cases it isn't possible to tell if the electricity you consume is 'green' or not, as once it is injected into the grid the source of electricity becomes unidentifiable. Unless you install microgeneration in your home, the power you use will come from the same grid as everyone else in your community, and there is no way of separating your green electricity from conventionally-sourced electricity.

Who regulates green power?

While the government of Alberta does not regulate green energy contracts, the generation facilities that produce renewable energy certificates are certified by independent third-party bodies (such as EcoLogoTM in Canada). Most energy retailers use auditors to monitor and verify their purchases of REC

What About Natural Gas?

While natural gas is widely considered a cleaner energy source and while its combustion releases much less carbon dioxide than coal, as an emissions burning fossil fuel, it does not qualify as a green source of energy. However, three energy retailers in Alberta currently offer green natural gas options. One retailer, Just Energy, offers to green your natural gas by purchasing carbon offsets on your behalf to compensate the emissions associated with your gas consumption. Another energy retailer, Bullfrog Power, provides 'green' natural gas supply that comes from a methane capture project situated on a landfill in Quebec. As of June 2015, Encor by EPCOR offers natural gas exploited from a landfill located in Ontario.

Green Energy Offers in Alberta

There are four retailers who offer green energy options for energy in Alberta

Retailer Green Energy Offer
Bow Valley Power
Bullfrog Power
Encor
Just Energy
Spark Power

Are Some Green Energy Contracts Greener Than Others?

There is some variety in the green energy contracts that are currently offered, and choosing the one that is right for you depends to some extent on what you are looking for. If, for example, you are concerned about the energy mix in Alberta, you should look for a contract that offers to offset your energy consumption with green-sourced energy. With the possibility of microgeneration, there are numerous smaller competitive retailers who offer this option. Some - though not all - are externally audited, which ensures that their generation facilities meet certain environmental criteria.

Larger competitive retailers tend to offer carbon offsets and REC that are purchased on your behalf, equivalent to the amount of electricity you consume. However, it is not guaranteed that the projects that they support will be Alberta-based. There are several smaller, Alberta-based energy retailers that offer green energy, though not all of them offer RECs.

Compare Alberta green energy offers

Alberta Green Energy Policy

As an energy-rich province, Alberta has considerable potential to develop both non-renewable and renewable energy sources. The first wind farm in Canada was built in Alberta over 20 years ago, and the province currently has 1 434 MW capacity of installed wind generation. However, this only represent about 5% of electricity generation capacity, and the province relies heavily on coal and natural gas for power generation. Alberta's coal-fired power generation facilities release almost as much greenhouse gases as the oil sands sector.

The last climate change action strategy that Alberta released was in 2008. The province currently supports small-scale green electricity generation through its micro-generation policy.

However, Alberta's electricity policies may be changing: the NDP government that was elected in May 2015 ran on a platform pledging a phase-out of coal by 2030, and a new climate change action strategy is currently in the works.

Why Purchase Green Energy?

 

Alberta's 2013 Electricity Generation, Source: Alberta Energy

Alberta's energy mix currently relies heavily on non-renewable, fossil fuels. The large role that coal plays in the Alberta energy mix makes Alberta electricity the highest polluting in the country; according to the Pembina institute, Alberta’s power grid emits about 800 tonnes of equivalent greenhouse gases for a given gigawatthour of electricity generated.

If green energy is important to you, purchasing it is a strong way to signal its importance to a competitive energy market structure such as Alberta's. The province does not directly support large-scale green energy generation as one reason for Alberta's liberalized electricity markets was to pass the costs of new generation investments to the private sector. Private investors respond to demand signals from consumers. Increased demand for green power will help encourage a greener Alberta energy mix.

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