Canada clean energy sector employs more people than oil sands

A report from climate think tank Clean Energy Canada has revealed that more people work in Canada’s burgeoning green energy industries than in the country’s established oil sands sector.

The report found that green energy employs some 23,700 people across Canada, while the oil sands industry can count only 22,340 employees.

This 37% rise in employment in the renewable energy sector is a result of the estimated CAD$25 billion (US$22 billion) plowed into industries such as solar, wind and hydro in the past five years.

Since 2009, the deployment of these technologies has increased by 93% across Canada, added the report, with growth in the sector accelerated by sustained support offered in a handful of provinces, chiefly Ontario and Quebec.

"Clean energy has moved from being a small niche or boutique industry to really big business in Canada," said Clean Energy Canada’s director, Merran Smith. "The investment it has gleaned since 2009 is roughly the same as has been pumped into agriculture, fishing and forestry combined. The industry will continue to show huge growth potential, beyond most other business sectors."

Smith praised the pro-green policies that have been established in many provinces, and called on those that have shown little appetite for renewable energy – such as the federal government in Ottawa – to prioritize clean energy.

"Every major industrial sector in Canada – from the aerospace industry to the oil sands – has gotten off the ground with support from the federal government," she said. "But in the clean energy sector, the federal government is really missing in action."

PR, offensive

The dominance of the oil sands industry in terms of federal subsidies needs readdressing, Smith said, but added that the damage the industry does to Canada’s international reputation and diplomatic relations is reason enough to invest in cleaner, more PR-friendly energies. Smith cited the recent lobbying efforts for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline – which carries tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas, Illinois and Oklahoma – as a prime example.

The Clean Energy Canada report offers a series of suggestions to Ottawa that would enable greater investment in renewable energy, such as tax support for renewable technologies and "putting a price" on carbon. Smith added that Alberta and Saskatchewan should follow the examples set by Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia in pursuing a greater share of renewable energy.

This viewpoint was recently voiced clearly last week by none other than Alberta’s finance minister Robin Campbell, who remarked that the province should “get off the oil train”. In the summer, CanSIA (Canadian Solar Industries Association) president and CEO John Gorman told pv magazine that the association has been working closely with developers in Alberta to establish a greater solar presence in the province.

CanSIA’s "Made in Alberta" blueprint is an offshoot of that, and contains recommendations to the Alberta government on how to transition from a coal- and oil-led economy to becoming a leader in renewables.

The Clean Energy Canada report also noted that foreign investment in Canada’s green energy industry far outstrips domestic support. Since 2009, four out of five of the largest investors in renewable technologies in the country have been foreign, with Manulife Financial Corp. the sole Canadian representative.

"The fact that foreign investors are coming to Canada to invest in our clean energy tells us we have a fantastic resource," Smith concluded. "We need Ottawa to wake up and recognize this is where the puck is going."