Canadian greenhouse gas emissions from electricity cut by 22% in 5 years

The electrical generating sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5.8 per cent in 2014 and 22 per cent over the past five years, the Canadian Electricity Association says.

Shutting Ontario coal-powered generating plants led to big reduction in emissions

power lines
The Canadian Electricity Association says it is trying to anticipate the impact on its business of climate change, including extreme weather that could damage power lines. (Canadian Electricity Association)

The electrical generating sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5.8 per cent in 2014 and 22 per cent over the past five years, according to the Canadian Electricity Association's annual report.

The sector also decreased its emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and mercury because of new technology to clean up emissions, the report said.

The shutdown of Ontario's coal-fired plants contributed significantly to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and was "one of the largest climate change initiatives ever undertaken in North America," the association said in its report.

It estimates 45 tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions were eliminated by time Ontario Power Generation finished closing the Nanticoke plant in 2014.

The association, which represents both private-sector generators and public utilities across Canada (excluding Quebec Hydro), estimates the industry is now responsible for about 12 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

The reduction in emissions reflects a shift in the sources of power in Canada. There was 8.8 per cent less coal generation and 3.5 per cent less hydro in 2014 than in 2013.

The amount of nuclear generation is up 8.1 per cent, and renewable generation from sources other than hydro are up 6.9 per cent.

There was also a significant improvement in energy conservation, which reduced the need for new generation sources.

Association president Sergio Marchi, a former cabinet minister in the Liberal government of Jean Chretien, says members of the association are committed to reducing the gases that lead to climate change.

"What is important is the trend line. They're going in the right way and they're fairly aggressive. So we like to think we're making a contribution towards obviously lessening the carbon footprint, not only in Canada but globally," he said in an interview with CBC's The Exchange with Amanda Lang.

Marchi said Canada is ahead of the U.S. in eliminating coal as 15 per cent of capacity is currently from coal, compared to 40 per cent in the U.S.

Canada has announced it will commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 ahead of a significant climate accord expected to be signed in Paris this year.

The electricity industry is attempting to predict how climate change will affect its business long-term, the annual report says.

In 2014, 63 per cent of Canadian Electricity Association members identified climate change as an enterprise risk issue, as extreme storms, low lake levels, reduced snow pack and other effects play havoc with hydro generation and transmission lines.

Marchi warned that much of the power infrastructure is nearing the end of its life and will have to be upgraded. He estimates the industry needs $350 billion in spending over the next 20 years.