Canada rough­necks seek green en­ergy jobs

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Af­ter nearly a decade of rid­ing Canada’s oil boom, drilling con­trac­tor Jen­nifer Turner found her­self low on work, like thou­sands of other em­ploy­ees in the fos­sil fuel busi­ness left job­less fol­low­ing a plunge in oil prices. To­day, she helps un­em­ployed oil work­ers find jobs in the bur­geon­ing so­lar power in­dus­try. She hopes it’s part of a broader tran­si­tion to adopt more re­new­able en­ergy in the North Amer­i­can na­tion with the world’s third-largest oil re­serves. “Work­ers risk get­ting left be­hind,” said Turner, a spokes­woman for the ad­vo­cacy group Iron and Earth based in western Al­berta prov­ince, the heart­land of Canada’s oil sec­tor.

In fact, many re­quire “min­i­mal train­ing” to re­pur­pose their ex­per­tise for re­new­able en­ergy projects, she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. Skills like weld­ing, ma­chin­ery re­pair and project man­age­ment can be trans­ferred from the oil in­dus­try to so­lar power in­stal­la­tion or other re­new­able en­ter­prises if work­ers get the right sup­port, said Turner who still oc­ca­sion­ally con­tracts for oil com­pa­nies. From the sands of Saudi Ara­bia, to the Bakken shale for­ma­tion in North Dakota and An­gola’s coastal wa­ters, low oil prices, con­cerns over cli­mate change and the fall­ing cost of clean power are lead­ing in­vestors and gov­ern­ments to re­con­sider en­ergy poli­cies.

Find­ing jobs for ex-oil work­ers is key to smooth­ing the path towards re­new­able en­ergy and build­ing pub­lic sup­port for that shift, of­fi­cials and cam­paign­ers say. The Paris Agree­ment to tackle cli­mate change, adopted in 2015 by close to 200 gov­ern­ments, notes that coun­tries will take into ac­count “the im­per­a­tives of a just tran­si­tion of the work­force” in their ef­forts to limit global warm­ing.

High Emis­sions

Since oil prices col­lapsed in 2014, Canada has lost more than 40,000 jobs in oil, gas and re­lated in­dus­tries, showed data re­leased last year by the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Petroleum Pro­duc­ers, an in­dus­try group. Ex­tract­ing about 3.6 mil­lion bar­rels of oil daily, Canada is the largest for­eign petroleum ex­porter to the United States and the world’s sev­enth largest pro­ducer, ac­cord­ing to the US En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Par­tially due to its oil in­dus­try, Canada is one of the high­est per-capita green­house gas emit­ters among the wealthy coun­tries in the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment. Canada’s gov­ern­ment has pledged to im­prove its record on cli­mate change by in­vest­ing in re­new­able en­ergy, tax­ing car­bon emis­sions and other poli­cies.

‘Tip­ping Point’

In Al­berta, which pro­duces about 80 per­cent of Canada’s oil, re­new­able en­ergy ca­pac­ity is dou­bling roughly ev­ery two years, said Jim San­der­cock, chair of the al­ter­na­tive en­ergy tech­nol­ogy pro­gram at the North­ern Al­berta In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. Cur­rently, re­new­able en­ergy ac­counts for less than 10 per­cent of Al­berta’s power, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures. With un­em­ploy­ment in the once-boom­ing prov­ince at nearly 8 per­cent, largely due to lay-offs in the oil sec­tor as prices dropped, in­ter­est in green en­ergy train­ing has grown swiftly, San­der­cock said.

“So­lar and other re­new­able en­ergy used to be ex­pen­sive,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “Now they are amongst the cheap­est forms of new elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion... any new tech­nol­ogy has to get past that ini­tial hump.” The in­sti­tute will dou­ble the num­ber of places on its re­new­able en­ergy pro­gram next year to 50, but de­mand is more than ten times that, the pro­fes­sor said. The em­ploy­ment rate for grad­u­ates is 93 per­cent.

“We are about to see a tip­ping point” as clean en­ergy grows rapidly in the United States and de­vel­op­ing na­tions, San­der­cock pre­dicted. “These are ex­cit­ing times.” Em­ploy­ment in so­lar power in the United States jumped nearly 25 per­cent last year to more than 260,000 work­ers, ac­cord­ing to a Fe­bru­ary study from The So­lar Foun­da­tion, a trade group. The US so­lar power in­dus­try now em­ploys more peo­ple than coal, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 re­port from the US Depart­ment of En­ergy. The broader oil in­dus­try, how­ever, re­mains a larger em­ployer than so­lar, de­spite re­cent job losses, it said.

Pay Cut

Work­ers trans­fer­ring from oil jobs into re­new­able en­ergy are likely to take a sig­nif­i­cant “hair­cut” on their salaries when mak­ing the switch, said San­der­cock. But some still want to do it for en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons, to avoid the boomand-bust cy­cle com­mon in the oil in­dus­try, or sim­ply be­cause they need a job, he added. John Archer, a spokesman for Al­berta’s gov­ern­ment, said the prov­ince has pro­grams to help un­em­ployed oil work­ers.

“The big­gest ob­sta­cle for work­ers who want to re­train is iden­ti­fy­ing which of their skills are trans­fer­able to new job op­por­tu­ni­ties and what new skills are needed,” Archer said. The gov­ern­ment does not have sta­tis­tics on how many ex­oil work­ers have got green en­ergy jobs since the price col­lapse in 2014, he added.

Fos­sil Fuel Sub­si­dies

Provin­cial of­fi­cials ex­pect to at­tract more than $10.5 bil­lion in re­new­able elec­tric­ity in­vest­ment by 2030, cre­at­ing an es­ti­mated 7,200 jobs. “The Al­berta gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to in­creas­ing the amount of green en­ergy pro­duced,” Archer said, with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails on tar­gets for en­ergy gen­er­a­tion or new projects. Both Turner and San­der­cock said the gov­ern­ment could do more to cre­ate clean en­ergy jobs, in­clud­ing bet­ter tax in­cen­tives for com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als us­ing green tech­nolo­gies.

Canada sup­plied $3 bil­lion an­nu­ally in fi­nan­cial back­ing - in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies - for oil, gas and coal com­pa­nies be­tween 2013 and 2015, com­pared to $171 mil­lion for clean en­ergy, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased in July by a coali­tion of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups. De­spite this fi­nan­cial back­ing for fos­sil fu­els, drilling su­per­vi­sor and cam­paigner Turner be­lieves the long-term out­look for re­new­ables is more op­ti­mistic than for oil. “We just need to avoid ex­clud­ing work­ers,” she said. — Reuters

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