Ottawa plans to phase out dirty, coal-fired power plants in favour of cleaner alternatives in the next several years, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Wednesday.


Minister of the Environment Jim Prentice outlined the government's plans to move away from coal power.

The government will soon introduce legislation that it hopes will encourage the industry to move to a more sustainable energy supply.

After lengthy discussions, Ottawa hopes to have plans finalized in the next 18 months. Although short on specific details, "today's announcement positions Canada one step closer to reaching its goal of being a clean-energy superpower," Prentice said.

"The approach we are taking creates strong incentives for the industry to invest in cleaner technologies," he said.

"Our regulation will be very clear — when each coal-burning unit reaches the end of its economic life, it will have to meet the new standards or close down," he said. "No trading, no offsets, no credits."

Canada has 51 coal-burning power plants in operation. Thirty-three of them are on track to come to the end of their useful lifespans by 2025. So Ottawa is working with the industry on an ongoing basis to ensure their replacements can meet energy needs while also matching environmental targets.

Coal plants are responsible for almost 20 per cent of Canada's energy supply, and contribute 13 per cent of the country's greenhouse gas output.

The massive Nanticoke facility in Ontario is the largest coal-fired plant in North America. That province has already pledged to shutter coal plants by 2014 but has struggled to come out with alternatives for the energy output.

'No trading, no offsets, no credits' —Environment Minister Jim Prentice

By way of contrast, natural gas-powered plants produce roughly 60 per cent of the greenhouse gases that are produced by coal-fired plants.

At last year's Copenhagen conference on climate change, Canada pledged to reduce its emissions by 17 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. Prentice said he looks forward to working with the United States on finding a continental solution, but the government will not hesitate to go it alone where interests diverge.

He also revealed changes to two other federal environmental policies. In Copenhagen, Canada agreed to contribute to a $30-billion "fast start" fund whereby developed economies would help developing economies adapt to climate change economically. Canada originally pledged $85 million to that effort, but on Wednesday increased its commitment for this year to $400 million.

Prentice also outlined new regulations for gasoline content.

"We’re moving forward with new regulations requiring renewable content for gasoline and also for diesel fuel.

"As a result, gasoline will be required to contain five per cent renewable content," he said.