Premier Rachel Notley promises mitigation for phase-out of coal-fired plants

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says the province’s new climate change plan, expected within days, will contain measures to mitigate the impact of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity plants.
Premier Rachel Notley addressed reeves, mayors and councillors from rural municipalities in Edmonton on Thursday. (CBC )

Premier Rachel Notley says Alberta's new climate change plan, expected within days, will contain measures to mitigate the impact of phasing out coal-fired electricity plants.

"In its place, we will create thousands of jobs building and operating cleaner natural gas and renewable electricity plants," Notley said Thursday in a keynote speech to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

"Some of you have written to me about this initiative. Let me assure you, we believe no one should disproportionately carry the cost of this necessary conversion. We will be providing appropriate adjustment programs to help us all move forward."

Notley is expected to release the plan before she heads to the COP21 United Nations Climate Change talks in Paris which start at the end of November.. She has said she wants to close down the province's coal-fired plants in a bid to reduce emissions.

Her speech was delivered a day after 30 mayors and reeves from rural Alberta municipalities released a letter that said they worried about the effect on power rates for businesses and consumers.

Notley told reporters afterwards that federal regulations require 12 of the province's 18 coal-fired plants to close by the next decade. 

Notley declined to provide details when she was asked about whether the climate plan will include a carbon tax. 

In her speech, Notley repeated her assertion that meaningful action on climate change will open world markets to Alberta crude oil.

The previous Progressive Conservative government thought they were helping the oil industry by ignoring climate change, she said.

But the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline showed that the rest of the world needs Alberta to deal with climate before it can build the infrastructure to get oil to new markets, she said.

Notley also discussed the budget and  the resettlement of Syrian refugees in her address.

She highlighted the money her government will spend on infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water systems. Notley received a standing ovation at the end of her speech.

Bear pit session got testy 

The speech was preceded by the so-called "bear pit" session, where rural councillors, mayors and reeves peppered NDP cabinet ministers with questions.

As expected, the minister's faced questions about job losses in the oil sector and how NDP policies could affect people in rural communities.

Elaine Garrow from Spirit River County said farmers are hurting because they have lost their second jobs in the oilpatch and now face higher fuel costs and new workplace safety rules on their operations.

Elaine Garrow, a councillor from Spirit River County, listens as Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason answers her question at the AAMDC meeting in Edmonton Thursday. (CBC )
"All that our farmers are looking for is how to make their grain trucks fly over our rural roads and bridges, because they are so badly diminished," Garrow told Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason.

"What programs and policies are the NDP planning to implement to help farmers be sustainable? And what is the NDP doing to ensure rural Alberta is consulted on these changes, since it has been very difficult to get a meeting with you?"

Doris Splane, the reeve of Athabasca County, asked the ministers to maintain the sectors Alberta already has instead of trying to diversify the economy.

She said the agriculture and forestry sectors are hurting.

"Do remember that each job represents a family in a small rural community," Splane said. "The low oil dollar is definitely affecting many but so are the job losses in other industries."

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said the forestry sector faces many challenges, including a lower number of housing starts in the United States. He said the government is expanding forestry and agriculture exports to Asian markets.

Carlier will soon head to Japan on a trade mission.