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Council of Canadians opposes approval of new coal plant

National Chairperson Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians today joined more than 40 organizations from across Canada in sending an open letter to federal Environment Minister Peter Kent urging him to launch an immediate review of the proposal from Calgary-based Maxim power to build a 500 megawatt coal plant at its Milner site near Grande Cache, Alberta.

The letter comes the day after the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC), which “regulates the utilities sector, natural gas and electricity markets to protect social, economic and environmental interests of Alberta,” gave final approval to the plant, which if constructed will produce an estimated three megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year for the life of the plant (the equivalent of putting 590,000 cars on the road). To put that number in perspective, the Alberta government is spending $2 billion on unproven carbon capture and storage to reduce Alberta’s emissions by roughly four megatonnes a year.

Approval of the new coal plant flies in the face of the June 23, 2010 pledge by then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice to introduce by new federal regulations to phase out the construction of new conventional coal plants. While the regulations were not slated to go into effect until July 2015, Prentice pledged at the announcement that “We will guard against any rush to build non-compliant coal plants in the interim.”

But it appears that the AUC rushed approval of the Maxim plant to do just that, and the current federal Environment Minister, Peter Kent, knew they were going to do it. In a letter dated June 7, 2011, Maxim’s lawyers sent a letter to the AUC urging swift approval of the proposal, which included the following:

“A recent development that is of extreme concern to Maxim is the proposed federal carbon legislation announced to industry by Minister Kent on May 26, 2011. Maxim has consulted with the Minister on this new legislation and understands that the Milner expansion will be considered an Existing Plant if it is commissioned by July 1, 2015. As a result of the anticipated financing, construction and commissioning timeframes, Maxim requires an approval from the AUC as soon as possible and no later than June 30th, 2011 in order to qualify as an Existing Plant under this new federal legislation. Maxim has no chance to complete the power plant expansion by July 1, 2015, unless it receives an approval from the AUC by June 30, 2011. Any regulatory delay, even from today’s date, in issuing an AUC approval magnifies the risk of irreparable harm to Maxim. Maxim’s plant is accommodated by the pending federal legislation.”

The AUC dutifully issued an interim approval on June 30, 2011, a decision which is being challenged in court by EcoJustice and the Pembina Institute.

Allowing the construction of new conventional coal-fired power plants in Canada flies in the face of the reality of the climate crisis and the need for immediate action to transition to a clean, green, renewable energy future. While the forthcoming federal regulations aren’t perfect, they are a step in the right direction. The approval of Maxim’s coal plant is clearly a step in the wrong direction.

As the open letter states, “In our view, all coal-fired power plants need to face regulations to, at a minimum, reduce their considerable emissions of greenhouse gas pollution. Given the need to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in both the short and long term, it is simply no longer acceptable to build new conventional coal plants in Canada, period.”

Please go to our Action Alert to join the Council of Canadians and the dozens of allied organizations in calling on Environment Minister Peter Kent to uphold the promise made in June 2010 to prevent non-compliant coal plants from being rushed into service before the new regulations on coal come into force.