Scrapping coal is a great deal for AlbertansAn overview of Alberta's progress on coal

Blog - Nov. 24, 2016 - By Benjamin Israel, Binnu Jeyakumar

Burning coal is one of the dirtiest ways to make power, which is why one year ago the Government of Alberta committed to eliminating coal pollution from the electricity grid by 2030. There are bound to be pros and cons with any change of this scale, but what we stand to gain is far more significant than what we are leaving behind.

Healthier Albertans and reduced healthcare costs

Coal power plants emit pollutants at much greater intensities than other generators. These pollutants include sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matters, and mercury. Alberta coal power has the worst health impact record in Canada. Our report, derived from Environment Canada’s analysis, demonstrates that in 2015, coal power in Alberta was responsible for 92 premature deaths, 12,500 asthma episodes and a $416 million cost in health outcomes.

An early phase out of coal power between now and 2030 means Alberta could reap tangible health benefits, such as avoiding: 618 premature deaths, 545 hospitalizations, over 80,000 asthma episodes, nearly 2 million days of breathing difficulty, and expenses to society totalling more than $3 billion between now and 2035. Aside from real impacts on the health of Albertans’ the cost savings alone dwarf any increase in electricity costs.

More jobs for Albertans and a better transition

Our analysis, conducted in collaboration with the Alberta Federation of Labour and Blue Green Canada, shows that even with quite conservative estimates, renewable energy and energy efficiency investments will generate more direct jobs than those lost through the retirement of coal power. The phase-out coupled with the legislated target of 30% renewable electricity generation by 2030 gives the province certainty to plan for a responsible workforce transition rather than reacting to plant closures due to market forces and global trends. In addition, there are many more potential jobs through investments in green infrastructure, grid modernization, and other clean energy initiatives. Alberta is currently developing a transition plan specifically to help coal workers move on. The announcement that a share of the revenue from the carbon tax will be allocated to affected communities is a great first step. Further details of the plan should be announced soon to make sure no Albertans are left behind.

Scrapping coal now is cheaper than cleaning it up later

The use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to produce so-called “clean coal” can sound compelling, but a close look at the numbers reveals that renewables are more than twice as cheap as this early stage technology. And despite significant government investment, the CCS plants in operation today are a tiny fraction of the targets set out in previous years. There is no reason to pay so much more to try to keep coal plants running when affordable proven technology in the form of wind and solar are so widely available today.

Climate benefits

With 18 coal-fired units in operation, Alberta has the most carbon-intensive electricity grid in Canada. Greenhouse gas emissions from the province’s electricity sector are comparable to that of the oilsands. Should coal be replaced with two thirds renewable energy and one third natural gas, GHG emissions from the overall power sector will decrease from 49 Mt to 13 Mt. This is the first significant step towards decarbonizing our grid, which is an essential step in the pathway to a low carbon economy.

Alberta as a climate leader in Canada and the world

The federal government has committed to making Canada’s power grid virtually coal-free by 2030. This bold announcemnet would not have been possible without the leadership demonstrated by Alberta and the precedent set by Ontario.

We are only taking our first steps to leave coal behind, but Alberta is already being approached by other countries to share best practices advice. It is now part of a group of climate leaders phasing out coal including the U.K., France, Oregon and New York. Our bold action is giving us a legitimate voice in global energy conversations.

With benefits on the social, health, economic, environmental, employment, and diplomatic fronts, the coal phase out is a great deal for Albertans.

Links

Out with the coal, in with the new

Breathing in the benefits

Job growth in clean energy


Benjamin Israel

Benjamin Israël is a senior analyst with the Pembina Institute. He is based in Calgary.

Binnu Jeyakumar

Binnu is the director of the Pembina Institute's clean energy program. She is based in Calgary.


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