July 28th, 2021

Economy and employment: Booming the southern Prairies

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on June 10, 2020.

Explorig food production and renewable energy synergies

James Byrne, Kent Peacock,

Paul Hazendonk and John Vokey

University of Lethbridge

Vegetables. An important part of a healthy diet. Eat a balanced diet; eat your vegetables. That’s why Canadians spend many billions of dollars every year on imported vegetables from the United States, Mexico and other tropical regions. It’s winter; it’s cold! We can’t grow vegetables hereÉ or can we?

Food is energy; energy is food. Plants convert solar energy, water and nutrients into biomass we consume. But think of the multi-thousand-kilometre energy footprint in that California head of lettuce. Think of the greenhouse gas footprint; the air pollution footprint. There are 20 million heads of lettuce produced every year in a greenhouse near Coaldale. Why not 200 million? Two billion? 20 billion? Why not broccoli? Cale? Carrots? Tomatoes? Why not fruit?

Climate change is causing the southwestern U.S. to warm and dry – a big problem for an area historically know to be substantially arid, with extensive deserts. The Colorado River feeds millions of acres of irrigation in seven southwestern U.S. states, and Mexico. But, the Colorado river is drying up, and when Canadians consume California lettuce, 95 per cent is probably Colorado River water. Climate change will alter the food production geography in western North America. The western U.S. will lose substantial agricultural production; a production void that Canada’s southern Prairies can replace. We have extensive irrigation production, and under climate change, we will have a warmer, dryer climate. The southern Prairies should become a high-quality food production corridor. Investments in enhancing our food production capacity on the southern Prairies will create careers now, at a time when so many Albertans, Canadians, need work. But food is energy, and energy is food. Can southern Alberta, Canada, the world, afford to burn fossil fuels to produce all that food, given fossil fuel pollution is radically warming global climate? We can afford the energy; but not the fossil energy. We have another southern Prairie advantage.

Sustainable Canada dialogues (SCD) is a national alliance of academics working on climate change solutions. SCD has published multiple papers and reports showing the most favourable Western Canada location for developing clean green renewable energy; solar and wind energy, is in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. We have the potential to become a major renewable energy production zone for all of Western Canada. Solar and wind energy are the most cost-effective addition to our energy capacity now, and technology is making solar and wind more affordable. The southern Prairies can become a renewable energy corridor.

But sometimes the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. We need to better connect the interprovincial electric grid. For much less than the cost of an oil or gas pipeline, we can expand the east-west electrical grid connectivity from British Columbia to Manitoba. Connecting the renewable energy capacity on the southern Prairies with existing hydroelectricity in British Columbia and Manitoba will provide a stable, non-polluting energy system for Western Canada, 12 months of the year. The southern Canadian Prairies should become a renewable energy production corridor. Investments in enhancing our renewable energy production capacity on the southern Prairies will create careers now, at a time when so many Albertans, Canadians, need work.

We have two aligning corridors. The natural advantages on the southern Prairies are for a food production corridor and a renewable energy production corridor. But food is energy and energy is food. Renewable energy is the critical input needed to allow the southern Prairies to become a regional; perhaps a global leader, in high-quality, sustainable food and energy production.

There’s an additional huge advantage. Creating renewable energy production on the southern Prairies will help make up for some of the massive greenhouse gas footprint in Alberta and Saskatchewan. We need regional and global public relations actions if there is to be a market for any of our oil and gas products during the regional and global renewable energy transition.

We need southern Prairie leaders to speak with one voice. Co-operate! MPs, MLAs, leaders of Indigenous bands; mayors, reeves, councillors for all southern communities; counties, municipalities. We need leaders of institutions: universities, colleges, school boards, health units, to speak with one voice – co-operate. Regional industry, we need your voices, and we all need synergistic food and energy corridors!

Agriculture has always been an economic pillar on the southern Prairies. But now, enhanced agriculture, enhanced food production, combined synergistically with our natural advantages in renewable energy production É those are the economic advantages for the southern Prairies. All southern Prairie leaders have to speak with one voice to our provincial and federal governments! They have to hear us, and they have to invest our taxes in us. We have to lead our provincial and federal leaders – we have to commit to buy our own food, our own power. Building the economy on the southern Prairies means building our synergistic food and renewable energy security – with our own food and energy dollars. Alberta has the avenue in place: PPAs (power purchase agreements). Southern PPAs and parallel FPAs (food purchase agreements) will build regional alliances and a diverse, vibrant, self-sufficient economy.

In 2020 and beyond, PPAs and FPAs are the employment engines needed to boom our economy. These investments make us more resilient to the growing challenges of climate change. Growing our food and renewable energy capacities – that is technology and expertise saleable to a world that will be spending trillions of dollars on renewable energy and food security. Now is the time to invest, cooperate. Let’s all speak with one voice.

James Byrne, Kent Peacock, Paul Hazendonk and John Vokey are professors at the University of Lethbridge.

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The good old professors should build a small scale prototype to show us how it is done, before trying to influence our Governments to commit to policies and expenses based on unproven theories. They don’t seem to realize that above the 49th parallel the sun’s energy is much lower than further south, even on summer days. Furthermore, the solar energy in Canada for half the year is hardly anything worth depending on. (remember the Medicine Hat solar plant that shut down four years after taxpayers spent $13 million?).

Have you computed the amount of energy that greenhouses need during the cold half of the year? They need an astronomical amount of energy that only producers of cannabis can effort.

So please don’t tell us. Show us and leave our gullible politicians alone.


I am certainly pleased to provide you further information even though you are hiding behind a pseudonym. You really should be public if you’re going to engage in public debates.

We can only fit so much information in an OpEd. We did point out that better East-West electrical grid connections will allow us to function on green electricity 12 months of the year. In fact, solar generation is quite effective, even in December and January, but that is definitely the lower time of year. But wind will make up for much of that deficit.

There wasn’t room to fit in a discussion of geothermal and/or ground-base heating and cooling. I have a prototype for that. My own home has operated on ground-based heating and cooling with no source of other hot or cold since 2006. In fact, ground-based heating and cooling will become the primary way we heat most of our buildings, including the proposed greenhouses, in the not too distant future. Do you prefer to continue to spend billions of dollars purchasing vegetables from the United States, Mexico, and other southern nations.

Natural gas (CH4) is a greenhouse warming trace gas 80+ times more powerful than CO2 in a 20-year timeframe. CH4 leakage is destroying our climate. Ground-based heating and cooling will replace CH4, providing clean, green heating and air-conditioning for all of our buildings in the not too distant future. If you don’t understand that, please email me and I’ll send you an article explaining. In future I think you should post under your own name in these public debates.

James Byrne 🙂


Dr. Byrne: You seem to follow the already discredited line of a California professor named Jacobsen. Yes, you might have been lucky enough to heat your house by finding the optimally configured underground location for geothermal. Most places in Alberta don’t have it. Instead they find oil or non optimal conditions. Even then, are you telling me that your house is “off grid”? If it is I promise to identify myself and apologize. But if it is not “off grid” then ask yourself if with all the solar panels and geothermal you have cannot power your presumably well isolated house, how you will power a greenhouse whose heat loses = (Tin^4 – Tout^4)
In any case, Do you have any idea of the energy needed to heat a greenhouse here during cold winters? or perhaps I am missing your intent to provide mini size frozen vegetables and fruit..


Thank you for introducing the reader to Sustainable Canada Dialogues.


great article, as it is hopeful, realistic and solutions based. meanwhile, it appears socrates does have some valid ground upon which to pace, no doubt made cynical by so many wasted, squandered, and outright thefts of billions of dollars of public monies that have lined private pockets in the name of green; only, our govts have ended up buying us the proverbial simpsons monorail. the authors, however, also do well to recognise that socrates is not really socrates, maybe not even a socra-tease.


Socra-tease – disappointed in your unproductive sarcasm, and your lack of knowledge regarding ground base heating and cooling (GBHC). Denial arguments suggesting I found a special source of heat under my house? Geology does not work that way. The temperature of the groundwater under my house is approximately the mean annual temperature for Lethbridge. That is the heat I’m using in winter; and that is the cool I’m using in summer.

I said nothing about my house being off grid. I buy green electricity. Red herring. Of course I know about heat loss and heat gain in greenhouses. I have graduate students and other researchers with MScs and PhD’s working on efficient greenhouse design. We are in a climate emergency. Those who say it can’t be fixed, get out of the way of those of us who are fixing it.


Yes professor either you got a river of ground water under your house or a very large stationary pool of water that has enough heat stored to last you for the winter, In either case your heat pump is the most efficient heating/cooling system and it works OK for your house. Considering that a green house needs a lot more heat than a properly insulated house, and considering that you are talking about a corridor of greenhouses, how many places in Alberta do you think will have enough underground water to tap so much heat?

Recently designed greenhouse economics for this area, include the injection of CO2 into the greenhouses to accelerate plant production and thus shorten the heating period, thereby making the greenhouse products more economical. I would be very interested to know a)what your designs suggest to do to prevent that CO2 from escaping and b) what will be the net benefit to the environment. Are we planning here to replace the gas pipeline with a CO2 releasing corridor? What emits more GHG?

The Sun certainly provides some heat, but this is mainly in the warm half of the year. You stated the sun here is effective even in December and January. I checked the AESO records of performance of the Brooks Solar plant and am sorry to tell you that Brooks last winter produced a little more than 2% of its name tag in December, and a little more than 4% in January. Are you planning, with this performance, to heat a corridor of greenhouses from Alberta to Manitoba?

The same thing applies to wind power. The capital and operating cost of the wind mills has to be paid for by selling lettuce and carrots. How many thousands of wind mills do you think will be needed. (Note that in the dead of the winter we go for many days without wind).

Each one of the energy supply systems (solar, wind, geothermal and green interconnector) for your corridor will have to be designed and built each capable to supply the total energy that may be needed, otherwise the whole corridor crop will be lost in some weather conditions. Can you see paying for such a large capital infrastructure by selling lettuce, carrots and peppers.

I am coming back to my original suggestion: Get a grant to built a demonstration prototype. That will prove an excellent project for your grad students. The government should be willing to finance a failed prototype than to subsidize $billions of a failed corridor from here to Manitoba. I am prepared to vote for a prototype project; however, I am not going to get out of the way for throwing away $billions of our taxes for unproven theoretical ideas. We are not talking here for a single greenhouse, we are talking for a corridor of greenhouses from here to Manitoba.


to address the rhetorical, teaser, question posed by soc: “Do you have any idea of the energy needed to heat a greenhouse here during cold winters?” well, there is red hat greenhouse in redcliff, ab (if you are a sucker, like myself, and pay a membership in order to shop, you will have noticed their products in the overrated, over priced, over sized big box up on mayor magrath s.), and, as noted by the authors, coaldale has an operation that produces lettuce year round. if they are making money, and they are not charging more than comparable outdoor grown produce, then does that not suggest energy consumption is reasonable? moreover, it is my guess that neither of these cos is even close to its full potential in terms of efficiency and breadth of products.