Alberta, future home of Canada’s hydrogen economy, hopes government

Premier Jason Kenney pitched Alberta as the future home of the hydrogen economy Tuesday at an energy event in Edmonton.

Kenney presented his plan to 2,000 people at Canada’s first hydrogen convention with hopes of drawing attention and money to Alberta.

“Hydrogen is the next chapter in a story Albertans have been writing for nearly a century,” said Kenney. “Alberta has the second best geological formation in the world for carbon sequestration.

“We have a growing renewable sector, in fact the fastest growing in Canada, and that can support clean hydrogen production across the province through a number of methods.”

The government wants to use the geological gift and Alberta’s skilled workforce to cash in on what will be an $11 trillion industry by 2050, according to Kenney.

The premier also spoke about a $50 million investment over the next four years to create the Clean Hydrogen Centre of Excellence. The centre will be a “pillar in Alberta’s Hydrogen Roadmap” and “will bring together industry, researchers and small businesses,” according to a government release.

“We’re hoping to leverage additional investments from the federal government and the private sector to turn it into a $200 million investment overall,” said Doug Schweitzer, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation.

The centre will be in Edmonton and run by Alberta Innovates, a government corporation responsible for promoting innovation in the province.

CANADA’S HYDROGEN PLANS

On Tuesday, a report from the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, a part of the auditor general’s office, evaluated the federal government’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The commissioner questioned projections that hydrogen could cut up to 45 megatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030. The report says Natural Resources Canada’s estimates are founded on doubtful cost estimates and depend on legislation that doesn’t exist yet, or at least isn’t consistent across the country.

The federal natural resources minister, who was attending the hydrogen conference, said despite the concerns from the report, Canada’s hydrogen goals are “feasible.”

“We will be launching a process with the provinces over the next several weeks to align on some of these economic issues,” said Jonathan Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said that Ottawa has much work to do to bring the provinces along with the government’s emissions reduction plan. He added that his government is prepared to move on its own, with measures such as bringing in a supply mandate for electric vehicles.

“The strategy is overly optimistic, but it actually is looking at what needs to be done. Our criticism is that you can’t just assume that those changes are going to happen,” said Commissioner Jerry DeMarco.

“(The government) could be right that this transformative scenario will happen, but they’ve got to actually put in place the programs.”

A supply mandate requiring manufacturers to have a certain number of electric vehicles for sale is expected in the coming weeks, according to Wilkinson.

Wilkinson added the price gap between natural gas and hydrogen will be narrowed through a combination of carbon taxes, industry commitments and new technology. He said a U.S. program, with which Canada is working, aims to bring the price of hydrogen down to $2 a kilogram by 2030 — a narrow enough gap to close with carbon pricing.

ALBERTA’S ROADMAP STILL ‘SHORT ON DETAILS’: NDP

Alberta’s official opposition is happy to see the government recognize the potential of hydrogen, but worries the initiatives might be coming too late.

“As other countries move towards the production of hydrogen it will take the right policy, investments, and leadership from the provincial government to be a leader in this sector,” said Kathleen Ganley, the NDP energy critic.

“Unfortunately, the UCP has dragged their feet and downplayed the potential of our hydrogen industry. They’ve even acknowledged they’re surprised by how quickly the industry has developed. To date, their hydrogen roadmap still remains short on details and this government needs to move quickly to capitalize on the excitement in this sector to ensure Alberta doesn’t fall behind.”

A spokesperson with Greenpeace Canada would also like to see Alberta pursue green hydrogen, not fossil hydrogen.

“Alberta could be a leader there too. We need to be moving away from fossil fuels,” said Keith Stewart. “Particularly, Europe is interested in green hydrogen and Canada could be part of providing that. It can also be used here at home to help with industrial emissions that are hard to reduce.”

There are two basic ways of producing hydrogen, according to Stewart. One is to use natural gas, where the hydrogen molecules are separated from the carbon molecules, another is to run an electrical current through water.

“(Hydrogen) isn’t an energy source on its own,” said Stewart. “It’s a way of storing energy, it’s like a battery, you can then reconvert it to electricity.

“If you get it from water and you use wind, solar or hydro power to generate the electricity that’s used, then it’s really low carbon.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski and The Canadian Press    

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