Canada is to accelerate the phase out of “traditional” coal-fired power plants by 2030, environment minister Catherine McKenna announced this week, with the aim of bumping up the country’s electricity supply from “clean” sources from 80 to 90 percent.
The move toward electricity generation that is free of greenhouse gas emissions gives preference to hydroelectric, nuclear, wind and solar technologies, while leaving coal power—which produces more than 8 percent of Canada’s GHG emissions—in the dust.
“Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve the health of Canadians,” McKenna told reporters.
The plan requires that plants meet an emissions requirement of 420 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour (gCO2eq/kWh) by the deadline. As even the cleanest coal-fired electricity emits 740 gCO2eq/kWh, this threshold is in effect a phase-out. If they switch to natural gas, whose emissions are roughly half those of coal, they are allowed to meet a less stringent standard, 550 gCO2eq/kWh, up until 2045.
The minister also opened the door to coal-plus-carbon capture and storage (CCS), saying that only ‘traditional’ coal must by phased out by the deadline.
Some plants can also stay open if the GHG emissions reductions that would have been achieved by closing them have been achieved elsewhere in the economy.
Wiggle room has also been given to Nova Scotia, which won an ‘equivalency agreement’ with Ottawa to keep its coal plants open past 2030. Under the pact, the province is required to reduce GHGs by 25 percent by 2020 and 55 percent by 2030. Nova Scotia has earlier said that it envisages coal use to continue to play a role in its energy mix until 2042. However, gains for carbon reduction in that province have been made in other areas, with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil jointly announcing with McKenna on Monday that his government is to introduce an emissions trading scheme in 2018.
Three other provinces in the country—specifically, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan—still use coal as part of their energy mix, although Alberta had already announced plans to shutter its coal plants by the same 2030 date.
Saskatchewan for its part aims to increase the proportion of renewables supplying electricity to 50 percent by the end of the next decade, but wants to keep its coal plants online and scrub them of their emissions via CCS. The province has built the first commercial-scale CCS plant at Boundary Dam.
Excluding the Boundary Dam operation and other plants already scheduled for closure, the federal announcement will affect four facilities: two in Nova Scotia, one in New Brunswick and one in Saskatchewan.
The federal government will help provinces make the transition via supports from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, a funding agency that uses public cash to leverage private finance.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.