Power Generation in Alberta: Changing the mix.

February 16, 2016
Solar Power plants in Spain

Solnova Solar Power Station, Spain/Abengoa Solar

Our new government here in the resource rich province of Alberta intends to diversify the energy sources used in the large scale generation of electricity. The primary reason is to attack the issue of climate change and associated global warming. While this is an admirable goal, it won’t be easy and it won’t be cheap.

The present energy mix is primarily coal with some natural gas. Hydro-electric contributes a small amount and wind is increasingly being used, but once again still contributes a small amount of the total energy requirements. Nuclear power is not in use in Alberta.

Coal
Alberta is rich in deposits of coal, so much so that it exports large amounts. Most of the coal found in Alberta is low in sulphur. Therefore it burns comparatively clean and doesn’t pollute to the same extent as other types of coal. The coal is found close to the plants so transportation cost is low and the mining technique is open-pit so extraction costs are low.

All newer coal-fired generating plants use what is referred to as “clean coal burning technology”. In this method the coal is pulverized into a dust before combustion which effectively increases the surface area of the fuel (coal). Combustion efficiency is increased so that close to 99% is burned making for much less pollution and green-house gases (GHG) leaving the stacks at the plants.

Coal in Alberta is the most cost-efficient fuel for the generation of electricity. The downside is that even with the cleaner technology it results in higher pollution and GHG release than other fuels.

Natural Gas
Alberta is rich in natural gas. We have an abundant supply, enough so that we export large amounts. A transportation infrastructure is in place already. Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning and most efficient fuels in the world. For example, converting a coal-fired plant to natural gas would immediately result in 50% less GHG being emitted and close to zero pollution from the combustion.

However, converting existing coal-fired plants to natural gas is difficult. In fact it will likely be necessary to build new plants and mothball or demolish the coal plants.

Hydro-Electric
Alberta doesn’t have many more suitable sites to construct dams and associated generating plants. This is not an option to replace coal in my opinion. Even if sites could be found public opinion is against daming rivers and flooding land.

Solar
The sun, our star, has great promise and seemingly unlimited power for the taking. Definitely worth exploring, but it too has several downsides.

Although Alberta is know for its sunny days, the sun doesn’t shine anywhere near as often as other climates such as southern California or Africa for example. It obviously doesn’t shine at night, so the plants don’t produce power during these times. Energy has to be used when it is produced, it is difficult to store energy using present technologies. This is a problem for the grid which must furnish power on an as needed basis. The other problem is the vast tracts of land needed for a large scale solar power generating plant. I don’t see any areas here that the general population would be willing to cover with the large number of solar panels needed to replace coal or natural gas generating plants.

Wind
Once again great promise and as long as the wind blows power is generated. Downsides include the large number of wind turbines required to produce the required amounts of power for Albertans. The wind doesn’t always blow, so again power generation would be intermitant. The wind turbines we see in southern Alberta and in many places in the United States require regular and frequent maintenance. Large tracts of land are also needed to erect these wind farms. Environmentalists and others protest the appearance of these machines and also the land use required. I see wind as a viable source of power for Alberta, but only as part of the overall power production.

Nuclear
This is actually one of the  cleanest methods of producing large amounts of electricity. The downside is two-fold, one is the disposal of radioactive waste and two safety or the consequences of an accident. The nuclear plants of today are extremely safe to operate, but the consequences of an accident can be catastrophic. Accidents have occurred. Three-Mile Island in the States was almost of an unthinkable magnitude. The inquiry found human error and outdated equipment were the contributers. This was also true for Chernobyl in Russia which did result in a large number of fatalities and the sterilization of many square miles of the country. The nuclear plants that failed in Japan weren’t protected adequately from earthquakes and tsunamis. Nuclear power for Alberta? I think not, Too many safer alternatives and the entire issue of nuclear is just too emotional. Even the word gets some people thinking of mutants and glowing in the dark.

In summary I believe that alternative sources of energy should  developed. It’s not a bad thing to diversify the sources and methods of providing electrical power to individual Albertans and industry in the province. New technologies will be needed to perfect these methods and an orderly transition will be needed to keep up with power demand in Alberta. There is also opportunity for Alberta to be involved in the development of many of these new technologies. However, Albertans must realize this won’t happen overnight.

Note: Constructive comments are always appreciated.


Gun violence in Calgary.

November 6, 2015

WeaponsSeizureCouttsBorderJan8-2009

Calgary has seen a epidemic of gun violence this week and over the last few months, yet Canada has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the world so what is happening. It sure isn’t the legitimate gun owners who are the problem.

For a Canadian to possess a gun they must complete a safety course and have a background check. Those with criminal records are not allowed to own guns. Having the proper approvals they must present the documentation at the time of the purchase. Guns can be sold only through licensed dealers and not at flea markets. Even private sales have to meet this criteria. Gun owners are required to notify the police of a transfer of ownership. This applies to rifles and shotguns. Military weapons, machine guns, full automatics and others are completely restricted. Handguns are totally restricted unless a person has a special permit to have one. These are extremely difficult to obtain. Gun owners are also required to keep guns properly stored under lock and key. Ammunition must be stored separately under lock and key.

Well I hate to tell you this but bad guys aren’t going to get permits to have guns. I can see it now. Joe Gangmember getting ready to do a drive-by shooting tells his boss gee I need to get a permit otherwise the hit is off. God forbid I go stick-up that bank without proper permits. Yeah right.

Simple Answer – keep the guns out of the hands of criminals. That`d be a start. Easier said than done, but we have to try. How to do that is a big question, but the police and justice system better start figuring a way. We are reverting to our wild west days and someone is going to get hurt or killed besides the bad guys. You know when it comes right down to it I don’t care if bad guys kill bad guys, that’d be a good thing, but the bullets fly in public places and hurt innocent people. So unless we can get the bad guys to kill each other in a private place away from the public we need a solution.

The bad guys get guns from two main sources. First from break-ins or thefts from homes and businesses where there are firearms. Second from other criminals who smuggle them in from the neighbouring USA where gun laws are much looser. Handguns are easy to obtain in the USA. It is illegal to bring them into Canada, but that is obviously happening and on a large scale. Every once in a while we read of a seizure of guns at the border crossings, but the authorities can`t catch them all. So here`s some suggestions for the police and justice system.

Potential solutions to these shootings in the city,
– increase scrutiny at the border crossings.
– charge gun owners who don`t store firearms and ammo properly.
– clamp down on break and enters, especially where firearms are known to have been taken.
– concentrate police resources on criminals known to use firearms.
– deny bail to those who use firearms in the commission of a crime
– increase penalties to perps who use firearms in the commission of a crime.

We need answers. Do you have any ideas? I`d love to hear them.


Prohibition Lawman – Book Launch

August 26, 2015

ProhibitionLawman-BookCover0001The evening of September 21, 1922 was a fateful one for infamous bootlegger Emperor Pic of the Crowsnest Pass in southern Alberata.

In the aftermath of an attempted illegal liquor run and an ensuing Alberta Provincial Police pursuit Picariello and associate Florence Lassandro gun down an unarmed Alberta Provincial Police officer outside his office and home in downtown Coleman. After their arrest and a sensational trial the two are hanged the following year.

Forgotten in the splash of media coverage are the victims, Steve Lawson, and his wife and five young children who witnessed his cold-blooded murder.

Read how the inadequate resources of the Provincial Police, and an unenforceable law, prohibition, resulted in Lawson’s death and the lawlessness of the Crowsnest Pass.

This book is the true story of a war hero and lawman, Steve Lawson, and the impact of his murder on his family and society. It is an untold story that will surprise and touch the reader.

Too often crimes and criminals are glamourized at the expense of their victims. This book focuses not on the story of the crime, but on the life of a victim.

Available as a paperback at,

Prohibition Lawman

Soon to be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Books and many others.


RCMP Service Dog Training Centre

August 20, 2015
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Handler with his dog. photo SB Davis

My kids and I visited the RCMP Police Dog Service Training Centre yesterday. It’s located in Innisfail, Alberta just south of Red Deer along Highway #2. This is the national centre where all service dogs and their handlers are trained. The centre has been located here for 50 years. Prior to that several centres were located across Canada. For those non-Canadians reading this RCMP stands for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They are the federal police force of Canada, but also are contracted by eight provinces to do their provincial policing. The only existing provincial police forces are in Ontario and Quebec.

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Some of training apparatus with teams in foreground. photo SB Davis

Every Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 pm during the summer months of July and August the centre puts on a free demo and information session open to the public. The day we were there it was very well attended, around two thousand persons. The grandstand was filled to capacity with standing and sitting room only on the grass next to the fence.

The sessions last about 45 minutes and include search and apprehension skills. There is usually a chance to meet a dog up close and sometimes there are puppies, but this isn’t guaranteed.

Training is done on site, but the majority of the training is conducted outside in the real world, nearby farmer’s fields, wooded areas, industrial areas and residential areas.

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Police Service Dog Memorial. Plaques have info on each dog lost in service. photo SB Davis

Finally near the entrance and the grandstand there is a memorial (pictured) to all the dogs lost during service. Adjacent to the memorial are the graves of some of the dogs.

Overview:
RCMP members occasionally used privately owned dogs to assist them from 1908 to 1935. Then in 1935 the force acquired three German shepherds. Later in 1937 satisfied with their performance a training school for dogs was established in Calgary, Alberta. The first case won with dog search evidence occurred in 1940. The present training centre was established in Innisfail in 1965. Staff consists of officer in charge, one program manager, one senior trainer, five sergeant trainers, one acquisition sergeant, two corporal pretrainers and support staff of six.

The Dogs:
German shephards and Belgian shephards (Malinois) in perfect condition are used. These are considered best for police work as they are adaptable, versatile, strong, courageous and can work in extreme conditions. We were told that a dog entering the program only has a 17 percent chance of becoming a police service dog. This is due to the high standards of the RCMP. The annual cost to maintain a police service dog is less than $1000 per year. Most police dogs retire at the age of seven which was surprising to me.

Dogs start training anywhere from 12 to 18 months of age. Basic training is 17 weeks, but training is on-going to maintain physical and mental fitness. Dogs and handlers are validated on an annual basis.

Dog Handlers:
Handlers are regular members of the force who volunteer for this duty. There is a long waiting list. Candidates are screened for selection. Obviously they must have a tolerance towards animals and appreciate dog instincts. The handlers and dogs go through the training program together and form a team.

What police service dogs do:
Police service dogs locate lost persons, track criminals, search for narcotics, explosives, crime scene evidence and lost property. In addition they provide VIP protection, crowd control, and assist with hostage situations. The dogs are great with police and community relations.

A search dog is trained for a specific skill in some cases. For instance a dog trained for sniffing out explosives only does that. Same with a dog trained for narcotics otherwise the nose get confused. The officer presenting to us said the officers need to know what’s in the package a dog finds. If a narcotic dog finds a package the officer must be assured it’s not anything else such as explosives.

Fascinating facts about police service dogs from the website,
A dog can search a car in about three minutes.
Dogs can work up to four hours with rest intervals.
At present there are 112 RCMP dog teams across Canada.
The estimated cost to train a handler and dog team is $60,000.

An interesting thing we found out is that the RCMP has its own breeding program at the centre. All the dogs are bred via artificial insemination. Private individuals nearby keep the females during their pregnancy until they’re ready to birth. At that time they are brought to the centre where the puppies are born. Once the puppies are about 8 weeks old they are given to handler candidates on the waiting list to be raised and looked after until they are ready for training at 12 to 18 months of age. Many of these member candidates in waiting have raised several puppies. I think it must be hard for them to give the puppies back I know it would be for me. By the way we were told they don’t receive any extra renumeration for doing this on behalf of the force. Dogs that are found unsuitable for training are sold and the demand is high.

We found the centre well worth the visit and went away with a new appreciation of these magnificent animals and their humans.

Further Information:
RCMP Dog Services


Energy and Human Impacts: Can we sustain our lifestyle and protect the environment?

July 16, 2015
Alberta in her magnificence. Gov. of Alberta photo

Alberta in her magnificence. Gov. of Alberta photo

Disclaimer: I have been employed in various aspects of the energy industry since 1977. The views expressed in this article are mine and mine alone.

Overview:

We humans need energy to power our lives and sustain our lifestyle. The challenge is to provide relatively cheap energy in an environmentally clean and a safe manner. Human population is increasing and so is the demand for energy. The Province of Alberta, Canada where I live is resource-rich. Human development of any type results in a footprint and impacts. Sustainable development means doing the utmost to minimize the impacts.

Energy in Alberta:
Oil (2013)
– Canada has the third largest oil reserves in the world, 97% of these are in the oil sands of Alberta.
– Alberta exports 2,000,000 barrels/day of crude oil to the United States.
– To the rest of Canada it exports 323,000 barrels/day.

Natural Gas (2013)
– Established reserves 32 trillion cubic feet.
– Alberta produces 10.1 billion cubic feet/day.

Coal (2013)
– Established reserves 33.4 billion tonnes.
– Alberta produces 27.9 million tonnes/year.

Where Does Alberta get its Electrical Generating Capacity? (2013)
– Total is 14,003 megawatts (MW).
– Coal power 42%.
– Natural Gas 41%.
– Renewable/Alternate 17% (wind, solar and hydro-electric)

Revenue to Government of Alberta (2014/15 Budget)
– Total government revenue from all sources $44.354 billion.
– Non-renewable Resource Revenue $9.209 billion or 20.76% of the total.

oil-sands-pic

Meeting the Challenges:

Greenhouse Gases (GHG)
-Federal and Provincial Governments and industry are working cooperatively to reduce these.
– Using natural gas in place of coal reduces GHG emissions by roughly 50%.
– Wind power is growing in Alberta and other jurisdictions. Alberta is blessed (or cursed) with strong steady winds, especially in the south.

Protecting the Environment
– The oil and gas industry in Alberta is the most highly regulated in the world.
-All mining operations including in the oil sands must be reclaimed to their natural states. This is a regulatory requirement, not an option. Reclamation is on-going as an area is mined.
– Environmental protection is a priority and a requirement for all projects in all industries within Alberta.

Wind turbine in SW Alberta. Photo by SB Davis

Wind turbine in SW Alberta. Photo by SB Davis

Consumers/Individual’s Role in Energy Sustainability
– As consumers of energy we can all work to reduce the impact by using energy more efficiently therefore reducing demand. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
– We must educate ourselves about the energy industry and how we use energy in our everyday lives.
– Get involved in issues that affect you. Understand all sides of the problems.

Summary:

As an Albertan I’m proud of my province and the contributions it makes to Canada and the world. I don’t pretend the oil and gas industry is perfect, but further investigation will demonstrate they are concerned and making serious efforts to reduce the impacts.

Further Reading:
Alberta Energy (Government of Alberta)
http://www.energy.alberta.ca/

Alberta Energy Regulator (formerly the ERCB)
http://www.aer.ca

Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA)
http://casahome.org

National Energy Board of Canada (NEB)
http://www.neb-one.gc.ca/index-eng.html

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)
http://www.capp.ca

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA)
http://www.cosia.ca

Canadian Energy Pipeline Association
http://www.cepa.com


Alternatives to Fossil Fuels: An overview

June 24, 2015
Wind farm in central Montana. Photo SB Davis

Wind farm in central Montana. Photo SB Davis

Recently I discussed the G-7 pledge to decarbonize our economies by 2100. As a follow up let’s talk about energy sources and fuels able to take the place of carbon-based ones like coal, crude oil, and natural gas. Remember we have to find something that will power our automobiles and trucks, heat our homes and power our cities. Whatever it is must be non-polluting, not produce greenhouse gases, be abundant, cheap and easy to produce, transport and store.

Hydrogen:

The best candidate is hydrogen the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen fuel cells are already in use powering vehicles, cars, trucks and buses. There are rumours in the automotive world BMW is planning to introduce a hydrogen powered car in the near future.

The challenge is the ability to produce, transport and store hydrogen safely and cheaply. In the United States the Department of Energy (DOE) has been conducting feasibility studies for many years into the use of hydrogen as a fuel and energy source that could replace fossil fuels. In Canada, and British Columbia in particular, there are buses and cars being operated using hydrogen fuel cells as the power source.

The biggest drawback right now is the lack of infrastructure. There are only a few filling stations dispensing hydrogen for vehicles. Best of all vehicles powered by hydrogen are 100% non-polluting. The by-product is water. However it does take energy to obtain hydrogen.

Nuclear Energy:

Nuclear power generation supplies roughly 20% of the energy needs of the United States today. Energy produced by nuclear means is clean and non-polluting. The major disadvantage is the need for safe, secure long-term storage of the radioactive waste produced.

Solar Power:

Power from our sun has great potential, but technology needs to be developed further to make it a viable source as a replacement. Solar is being used to generate power at many locations around the world. Solar panels are used to heat water and supply power to remote locations.

If all the solar energy the sun bombards our Earth with could be captured it would exceed the world’s energy needs 10,000 times over. It is an inexhaustible supply of free energy, but it has to be captured and stored economically and efficiently.

Wind Power:

Power from the wind is at first glance a viable option, but it is restricted because it is intermittent. The number of wind turbines needed to generate massive amounts of energy is prohibitive. It’s definitely a power source that should be in the mix, but realistically not a great alternative to fossil fuel by itself. The wind turbines are considered unsightly by many and the blades kill many birds.

Others:

Hydro-electric, Tidal and Geo-thermal power are all site-specific meaning they can’t be generated everywhere. Also the sources of these types of power are limited. So although good clean, economic sources of energy their use is restricted to local areas.

I believe over the long-term fossil fuels can be largely replaced, but much work remains to be done. These research and feasibility studies must be continued. In parallel with the use of fossil fuels. Society must prepare for the day when we can decarbonize our economies. Our long term future depends on it. Meanwhile fossil fuels are here to stay. We need to use them wisely and reduce their footprint.


Hillcrest Mine Disaster: 100 Years

June 21, 2014
The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

One hundred years ago on June 19, 1914 Canada’s worst mine disaster changed the Village of Hillcrest, Alberta forever. At about 9 a.m. a massive explosion thundered through the mine. Of the 235 men working the morning shift 189 were killed. In a few seconds wives became widows and children lost fathers. The Pass was rocked to its core.

The Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta was and is still coal mining country. In 1914 coal was king. Virtually everything ran on coal, trains, heating for houses and industry. Demand was high and the Pass had many mines employing thousands.

I visited the area recently and took in the history. I stood beside the massive grave site in Hillcrest Cemetery. It shocked me how many men were buried there. The entire Pass area reeks of history. Visit soon to take in this fascinating history and beautiful scenery.

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Here are some links I recommend to learn more about this tragedy and the history of the times. I especially suggest the Crowsnest Pass Museum in Coleman. They have exhibits on coal mining and the disaster in Hillcrest. They are also stewarding the centennial remembrances.

Crowsnest Pass Museum, Coleman, Alberta
Centenary of Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Discover Crowsnest Pass Heritage

 


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