Regina summit looks at what shift from coal to renewable energy means for future of Sask. economy

As urgent warnings about climate change continue, a Regina conference is looking at how Saskatchewan can make the transition from coal to renewables in a just and fair way.

Environmental group works with residents in Coronach, Estevan to talk about shift away from coal

The Just Transitions Summit in Regina is looking at how Saskatchewan's transition from coal to renewables can occur in a fair way, without undue damage to communities that rely on coal. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

As urgent warnings about climate change continue, a Regina conference is looking at how Saskatchewan can make the transition from coal to renewables in a just and fair way.

Hayley Carlson is with Climate Justice Saskatoon, an urban environmental group that will be presenting at the Just Transitions Summit this weekend.

Members of Climate Justice Saskatoon have spent months talking to people living in Coronach and Estevan, two rural Saskatchewan areas that rely on coal production, about what they want to see in the future of their own communities as coal phase-outs become more pressing.

"We were a bit apprehensive about going into the communities," Carlson acknowledged, saying the group approached the work as a relationship-building exercise.

But over time, she and the group found they shared common ground with the rural residents, including a feeling that provincial and federal governments were not representing them well.  

"They felt like they were left out of the conversation and their needs weren't accounted for, and we feel the same way as an urban environmental group," said Carlson.

Plans to help with shift lacking, says group 

The federal government has announced it will try to speed up the phase-out of coal-fired electricity by 2030.

But people in Estevan and Coronach still don't know how that might impact them, nor do they feel there are plans in place that will help them adapt to that shift, she said.

"They felt very uncertain about the future and that was limiting investment in the community and limiting their choices that they could take," said Carlson.

People in Estevan could see opportunities in carbon capture and storage to a greater extent, she said, but participants in Coranach struggled to see their future as clearly.

"There was a lot of pessimism about what that community is going to look like without coal."

Coal mine wages pay for solar panels

Shannon Crooks and her family live on a farm near Coronach.

As she sees it, there's been a gap between urban and rural residents and how they approach the issue of climate change.

Climate change is not a word people use around Coronach. They think of coal as a job, as a fair wage.- Shannon Crooks, rural resident

"Climate change is not a word people use around Coronach," she said.

"They think of coal as a job, as a fair wage. They think of it as food on their table, as paying their mortgage."

Coal is cheap and efficient, and it powers not just Coronach, but several nearby communities, she said.

But Crooks said she believes that Saskatchewan can make the leap to renewable energy. Her own family has installed solar panels, which now power their whole farm.

"The only reason we were able to do this is because my husband gets a wage at the mine," she said.

Crooks called Climate Justice Saskatoon's work "a huge deal and a step in the right direction for all Saskatchewan," in bridging the gaps between urban and rural communities and helping to make the transition to renewable energy.

Carlson said Climate Justice Saskatoon will soon be releasing another, more technical report on how to reach climate targets and move to total renewable electricity over the next 30 years.

The Just Transitions Summit, with its focus on building Saskatchewan's next economy, will be continuing into Sunday at Campus Regina Public.

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky.