The Current

Canada's plan to phase-out coal-powered electricity by 2030 sparks concern

Canada's coal reserves are the fifth largest in the world but within 14 years Ottawa says it wants none of it to be used to make electricity. Industry workers say the cost in jobs will be high but environmentalists say the cost in lives is already high.
Getting electricity off coal by 2030 is key to Canada meeting targets for reducing carbon emissions, says Pembina Institute director of federal policy Erin Flanagan.

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The federal Liberal government announced it will be phasing-out coal from electrical generation by the year 2030 —making 90 per cent of Canada's power generation "clean."

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the steps would reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by more than five megatonnes — "The equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road."

Four provinces have coal-power plants: Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Job costs of coal

New Brunswick has about 420 direct and indirect jobs that will be affected. Ross Galbraith, a business manager for Local 37 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in New Brunswick, tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that union members are worried.

"We acknowledge that climate change is real. The science is definitive,"  Galbraith says.
Coal-powered plants currently generate 11 per cent of Canada's electricity, and are responsible for more than 70 per cent of the electricity sector's emissions. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"But we think we need a sensible, balanced approach for the future of our electrical sector to ensure we have a reliable system that's at the right cost for the consumers."

Galbraith called on the federal government not to shut the few remaining coal-powered plants with life spans that extend beyond 2030. He said effective steps are already being taken to reduce emissions, and rushing closures to meet arbitrary deadlines could hurt the reliability of the power grid, as well as cost jobs and drive up consumer costs.

Mixed messages on coal

While coal accounts for 70 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, Robin Campbell, an industry representative with the Coal Association of Canada, points out that Canada only produces 1.6 per cent of global emissions, so Canada's coal industry is a miniscule polluter on the world stage.

He warns emission statistics can be misleading and says the coal industry needs to continue to invest in research into cleaner forms of coal production.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Dr. Joe Vipond talk about the future of coal 1:16

Campbell also feels the government is sending mixed messages, noting that McKenna and the Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr, both toured a carbon capture and storage facility in Saskatchewan earlier this year.

"Both found it to be exemplary, and [said] that it was the future of coal," Campbell told Tremonti.

"So I think there is a bit of a moving target out there, and I think it's creating a lot more anxiety across the four provinces that do use coal for their power."

Health costs of coal

Pembina Institute's Erin Flanagan, a nonprofit think-tank promoting clean energy, says people should consider the health costs of coal, as well as the environmental costs.

She tells Tremonti that a Pembina study looking at the health benefits of phasing out coal by 2030 would save $5 billion in health related costs; it would avoid more than 1,000 premature deaths, 870 ER visits and 128,000 asthma episodes.

"The numbers are significant. So even if we don't want to do this for climate reasons, we should recognize that this is a public policy that improves the health of all Canadians."

"It has merit, just on the health factor alone."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Lara O'Brien.