Skip to content

Harper disappoints on coal-fired power plant regulations

Congratulations to everyone who worked to shut down coal-fired power plants in Ontario!

The Environment News Service reports, “Ontario is going coal-free. The largest coal-burning power plant in North America, Nanticoke Generating Station on the north shore of Lake Erie, will stop burning coal this year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced on (November 21). …The Nanticoke Generating Station alone produced nearly 18 million tonnes of CO2 in 2005, the equivalent of 3.7 million cars on the road. …Premier Wynne also announced new legislation – the Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act – which will permanently ban coal-fired electricity from the province, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to do so.”

The problem across Canada is clear. In September 2012, the Globe and Mail reported, “Coal-fired power plants account for seven of Canada’s 10 largest sources of GHG emissions and represent 11 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions – roughly double those from the tar sands.”

So where’s the Harper government on this file?

“Under the new rules (being set by the Harper government), companies will not be able to commence construction of a new coal-fired power plant after July 1, 2015, unless it is equipped with (the questionable) carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technology… Companies would also have to close plants built before 1975 by the year 2020, and any plant built after 1975 would have to close by 2030, unless equipped with CCS.”

“(While) draft (federal) rules had (initially) set a 45-year end-of-life limit on operating coal plants, the final version extends that to 50 years or 2030, whichever comes first. The change will mean several plants that would have faced closure between 2020 and 2030 will now be able to stay in operation.” And while the Harper government described the regulation as “among the most stringent in the world”, the rules were significantly weakened from what was first proposed in 2010.

In August 2011, the Council of Canadians signed an open letter along with 40 other organizations that 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.” This was in reference to the Alberta Utilities Commission’s rush approval of Calgary-based Maxim Power’s request to build a 500-megawatt coal-fired expansion to a generating plant near its mine at Grand Cache, Alberta.

In February of this year, the Canadian Press reported, “Canada can teach the United States some lessons on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in a blunt rejoinder to recent chiding by the Obama administration on (Canada’s record with respect to) climate change (and its lobbying in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline). Baird (said) that the U.S. should actually be following Canada’s lead on working to cut back on the use of coal-fired electricity generation.” But Greenpeace’s Keith Stewart noted, “Baird shouldn’t try to take credit for Ontario’s phase out of coal-fired electricity, although environmentalists would welcome federal assistance in making progress in other provinces. The reality, however, is that the federal coal regulations delay any serious action until after 2025.”

Further reading

Environmental Defence
Council of Canadians opposes approval of new coal plant
Will the Harper government try to bully the U.S. on the KXL pipeline too?
Council of Canadians speaks against coal mines