Alison Thompson: This is Alberta’s Opportunity to do Better

Reflections from our Energy Futures Lab Fellows

Distorted market prices have occurred due to past governments picking winners overs losers versus ensuring an even playing field – a fair competition.”

– Alison Thompson

What does the future of Alberta’s energy system look like to Alison Thompson, Managing Director of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) and Energy Futures Lab (EFL) Fellow? “Renewable, when possible, and not only measured by today’s market prices, which substantially subsidize fossil fuels with ‘hidden’ health and environmental costs, tax advantages, research support and dedicated government programs.”

Alison is passionate about the importance of leveling the playing field when it comes to energy production and explains that, “Distorted market prices have occurred due to past governments picking winners overs losers versus ensuring an even playing field – a fair competition.”

The Energy Futures Lab (EFL), convened by The Natural Step Canada in collaboration with Suncor Energy Foundation, the Pembina Institute, and the Banff Centre introduces a new approach to energy in the province. It brings together unlikely bedfellows from across Alberta’s energy system to trade ideas and innovate towards the energy system that the future requires.

Such an approach is desperately needed explains Alison: “We’re treating ourselves, I think, very disrespectfully as a province. We’re treating ourselves like a developing nation where people come in and pillage, extract, and then send the products away..It is time to move towards a knowledge economy.”

Having built her career over the past 20 years on energy in Alberta, and worked on both sides of the renewable/non-renewable energy spectrum, Alison’s selection to the EFL Fellowship was an easy decision. “I started out in industry not as an engineer, I was a relief operator, so I literally was the person driving around the oil and gas fields and checking gauges, batteries and operating wells, and gas plants. From there, I finished my engineering degree and worked for Shell, Suncor, Nexen, and a coal utility in the States.”

Since leaving Nexen, Alison’s work has focused on geothermal energy. Geothermal, while not as common in Canada, is in widespread use across the world and famously provides approximately 65% of primary energy in Iceland.

Alison wants people to understand the potential appetite for change that exists in the province. “There are many people like me who worked in oil. We have not turned our back on oil. That industry is the goldmine of talent. The word ‘energy’ can be expanded. Every company wants to make money and they don’t really care if it’s from oil. That happens to be the profitable commodity of the past but it is no longer the profitable commodity. With the proper government policies in place, if another commodity, like renewable energy, is in the market, then I think they would be very happy to use that energy instead as their vehicle for profit.”

On Alberta’s ability to capitalize on the energy opportunities of the future, and the EFL’s potential to catalyze change, Alison is extremely optimistic. “This province is full of engineers, scientists, geoscientists, and we’re being blocked from being as innovative as we can. It’s not just about energy. It’s about personal satisfaction and expression in the job. We can do better. Other countries are already doing better… It’s our opportunity to step ahead. We need some people to lead the way. This lab is a wonderful incarnation of a group of people coming together to lead the way.”

Alison Thompson is an Energy Futures Lab Fellow. She is the managing director and co-founder of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association.