Op-Ed: The Beating Heart of the Alberta Advantage

In just under 70 years, a patch of farmland to the northeast of Edmonton has grown and transformed into the country’s largest hydrocarbon processing region and a world-class location for chemical, petrochemical, and energy investment. Alberta’s Industrial Heartland is one of Canada’s most critical economic hubs, employing over 7,000 people directly (and another +25,000 indirectly) and contributing roughly $40 billion to regional, provincial, and national GDP between 2017 and 2020.

The region lives and breathes the fundamentals of the Alberta Advantage, including access to abundant low cost feedstocks, a competitive tax framework, a world-class workforce, investment attraction tools, and growth-enabling infrastructure. This is important. With clouds gathering on the global economic horizon, the province needs to leverage its strengths if we are to weather the storm and continue growing our economy.

According to Jack Mintz, the President’s Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, the Alberta Advantage remains in good shape, but a series of significant challenges lie ahead. Of the potential roadblocks he discussed in a recent speech, perhaps none looms more prominent than the energy transition. “If we don’t maintain reliable, cheap energy, that’s when you impact economic growth, as well,” he said. “For Alberta, this is probably one of the biggest threats.”[1]

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has become a critical priority for governments worldwide. As a result of the Paris Agreement, countries like Canada are in a race against the clock to find a way to meet their emission commitments. While the agreement has serious implications for Alberta, it also presents an opportunity, particularly for the Heartland region.

We have the necessary resources, expertise, and technology to support Alberta’s energy transition and help Canada achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.  In particular, the vast geological resource that sits below Alberta is highly suitable for carbon sequestration, providing significant potential for expansion of our carbon sequestration infrastructure. This, in turn, will underpin industrial decarbonization and the production of low carbon hydrogen.  While hydrogen won’t be suitable for all application, it offers a unique pathway for industrial applications and heavy hail transport.

Currently the production of hydrogen in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland exceeds 2,200 tonnes per day and is expected to grow considerably in the coming years. World-scale companies are actively investigating projects in AIH, including collaborative efforts between Shell/Mitsubishi, Suncor/ATCO and Itochu/Petronas/IPL.

But our contributions to Alberta’s energy transition go beyond just hydrogen. Silicon Ranch and Shell Canada have announced that they are building a 58-megawatt solar farm that will cover 20 per cent of the electricity needs of the Scotford Complex.  To the west, global solar giant Alpin Sun is studying the largest renewable energy development to date in central Alberta – a 1,200-acre, 200-megawatt solar farm – that will help power even more facilities.

With the right talent, infrastructure, and business climate, the Industrial Heartland Region is leading the charge on Alberta’s energy transition and helping drive diversification.  And we’re just getting started.  More than $45 billion in capital investment has flowed into the region. Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association’s goal is to see that amount grow to $70 billion by 2030 and continue at that pace through the next decade.  As the need for energy solutions grows, so does the region’s potential.

While the member municipalities of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association remain confident we can rise to the moment, we – like the province – can’t take anything for granted. When challenges arise, we must be quick and creative in our solutions. In an ever-more competitive global economy, we have no choice. Those who do will succeed, while those who don’t will fall behind.

What’s more, we need to be collaborative. As Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association’s success over the years demonstrates, we’re stronger when we work together towards common goals. The challenges we face are real, but so too is our ability and resolve to overcome them. As we’ve shown in our history, Albertans will find a way through ingenuity, determination, and hard work. And as we have for nearly seven decades, the Heartland Region will continue leading the way by embracing the Alberta Advantage.


Mark Plamondon
Executive Director
Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association


AIHA is a non-profit municipal collaboration between its five municipality members, including the City of Fort Saskatchewan, Lamont County, Strathcona County, Sturgeon County, and the City of Edmonton. Formally created in 1998, the municipalities take a proactive and collaborative approach to planning and industrial development.