In northern Alberta, a former rig worker finds newfound pride in embracing renewables, spurred by uncertain oil industry prospects and supported by retraining opportunities.
Lewis Lix now spends his days installing pipes for geoexchange systems, but like many other young Albertans, his career started out on the oil rigs, writes Change For Climate in a post titled, ‘rigs to renewables’—part of a series featuring everyday Edmontonians who help meet the region’s climate goals.
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It’s a natural fit for Lix. Like oil drilling, geoexchange—which uses the Earth as a heat source or sink to maintain ideal indoor temperatures—involves drilling vertical holes for heat exchangers.
Lix says his urge to switch careers grew after dealing with shutdown after shutdown over seven years in the oil industry. He started to regret the time spent away from his family.
“I just started racking my brain about something else I could do,” he said. “It started out with a lot of long, exhaustive conversations with my family about what I can do with my future, and where’s oil and gas going to be in the next 10 years.”
The future of Alberta oil is becoming blurrier as Canada prepares to phase out the inefficient oil and gas subsidies that help make it profitable. Ottawa has also proposed new legislation to align job creation with the country’s climate goals—and to ensure a fair transition for oil workers and other employees in emissions-intensive sectors.
Polls show that nearly 80% of Canadian fossil fuel workers want to move into net-zero jobs, and recently-announced federal funding of C$16 million will support retraining for at least 2,200 workers—providing them options, tools, and resources to plan their own shift into renewables.
Lix had considered a career in renewables nearly a decade ago. He looked into studying alternative energy through the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), but chose not to enrol at the time, determining he wouldn’t be able to support himself through school.
But his wages from oil drilling helped him put money towards his home, family, and tuition, and in 2022 he graduated from the two-year NAIT program.
“I got here because of the rigs,” says Lix.
But “I switched to this career in renewables because it’s something that’s really moving forward quickly,” he adds. “And it’s something that I can be proud of, something that my kids can be proud of me for doing.”
“And besides, renewables are a freight train that’s not going to be stopped, and I wanted to get onboard.”
Changing careers is never easy, but Lix was motivated to make it happen. Even before starting the NAIT program, he had already reached out to a local geoexchange contractor. When the time came for the company to take on new workers, Lix was hired for a summer job.
He has since installed geothermal systems in homes across Edmonton and rural Alberta. Noting that the company has seen a massive uptick in demand since he started, Lix speculates that geothermal could become the area’s core utility.
His long-term goal is to design renewable energy and energy efficiency systems.