In a Friday afternoon release, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced regulations to implement that 2030 coal phaseout in the pan-Canadian climate framework and set higher efficiency standards for new natural gas-fired power plants.
McKenna also unveiled the terms of reference for a nine-member just transition task force to address the work force and community impacts of the coal phaseout.
The phaseout plan affects seven coal plants in Nova Scotia, five in Alberta, and one each in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, according to a federal technical paper. It will cut 16 megatonnes of carbon pollution in 2030 and 100 Mt between 2019 and 2055, cost more than C$2.2 billion, mostly in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but save $4.9 billion in air pollution costs over 12 years, states a federal backgrounder.
“In addition, these amendments would result in the reduction of air pollutants, including 555 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide and 206 kt of nitrous oxides between 2019 and 2055,” the backgrounder notes. “These air pollutants have been shown to adversely affect the health of Canadians through direct exposure and also contribute to the formation of smog, including particulate matter and ground-level ozone.”
“Phasing out coal is good news for our climate, for our health, and for our kids,” McKenna said. “I’m thrilled to take the next steps in powering past coal in Canada.”
The announcement opens a comment period that will conclude April 18.
The Environment Canada backgrounder confirms that the federal and Nova Scotia governments are negotiating an equivalency agreement under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, to “establish conditions under which the federal regulations would stand down and provincial regulations would apply.” Climate hawks have expressed concern that the arrangement could allow the province to continue operating its coal plants beyond 2030.
The plan drew pushback from the Canadian Electricity Association, the Canadian Press reports. The Pembina Institute and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) expressed strong support.
“Power from coal plants is the dirtiest electricity we can produce—with huge impacts on human health and the climate,” said Pembina’s program director for electricity, Binnu Jeyakumar. “It is also increasingly becoming one of the most expensive means of producing power in North America, with renewables and natural gas out-competing it.”
She added that she’s “happy to see sound regulatory design that will result in earlier retirement of converted units that are higher polluting. We anticipate they will have to compete with zero-emission alternatives within a decade or so.”
“Coal plants threaten the health of millions of people around the world,” added CAPE Executive Director Kim Perrotta. “By acting decisively at home, Canada can more effectively work towards the closure of coal plants around the world.”
At 1,070 tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent per gigawatt-hour of electricity, Pembina notes the emissions from the average Canadian coal plant are seven times the average intensity for the country’s electricity grid. Coal plants converted to natural gas would bring that output down to 550 to 900 tonnes/GWh, compared to a federal limit of 420 tonnes that has been in effect since 2012. Pembina cites a series of opinion polls in 2016 in which at least 78% of Canadians supported a coal phaseout.