Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is speeding up Canada’s planned elimination of traditional coal-fired power plants, doubling down on green pledges as its top trading partner moves in the opposite direction.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Monday the country would phase out traditional coal power by 2030, an acceleration of existing measures that the government said affects four facilities in Canada not already facing retrofit or shutdown by then. They include two facilities in Nova Scotia owned Nova Scotia Power, an Emera Inc. subsidiary, and one each in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick owned by provincial crown corporations.
Canada, which draws 80 percent of its electricity from non-emitting sources, is pressing ahead with plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions amid warnings from Trudeau’s political opponents that doing so will create a competitive imbalance with the U.S., where President-elect Trump wants to back out of climate pledges and boost coal production.
“Phasing out coal-fired electricity and expanding clean power sources will create new jobs and opportunities,” McKenna said. Eliminating smog caused by coal power generation will also reduce health impacts, she said.
Trudeau has unveiled a series of environmental measures in recent months, including a minimum price on carbon and expanded funding for marine protection. His centrist Liberal Party is trying to balance demands of environmental advocates with spurring Canada’s sluggish economic growth. Trudeau faces deadlines to decide on three pipeline projects over the next month.
The change essentially requires coal plants to meet a tougher emissions standard — 420 metric tons of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour — more quickly than previously scheduled, unless they adopt carbon-capture technology to cut emissions. If they convert to natural gas, they need only meet a 550-metric ton standard until 2045, when the tougher standard kicks in. McKenna said she would work with provinces on equivalency agreements, leaving the door open to keep coal plants running if emissions cuts are found elsewhere.
The move will see Canada generate 90 percent of electricity from non-emitting sources by 2030, McKenna said. It will also cut emissions by five metric megatons, the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road, government estimates said.
Coal power represents about 8 percent of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions, the government said. It accounts for about 11 percent of the country’s electricity, concentrated mostly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and also in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, according to a report issued Monday by the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank.
Alberta and Saskatchewan are major oil producers reeling from the impacts of a commodities slump. Alberta has already pledged its own coal phaseout, while Saskatchewan is balking at Trudeau’s earlier announcement of a minimum carbon price.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall criticized Trudeau for again pre-empting a December meeting with provincial leaders, where a pan-Canadian climate strategy is due to be discussed.
Ontario — Canada’s most populous province — phased out coal over the past decade. Air quality has improved while electricity rates in the province have roughly doubled. McKenna said the government was “working to ensure” the coal phaseout in other provinces does not increase rates.