Alberta’s electricity sector today
Coal has traditionally been Alberta’s low-cost source of electricity.
In 2014, Alberta’s electricity sector accounted for 16 per cent of Alberta’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The majority of these emissions were from coal-fired electricity generation. In fact, Alberta produces more coal pollution than all other Canadian provinces combined.
Coal plants are a major source of air pollution, releasing pollutants like:
- nitrogen oxides
- sulphur dioxide
This has an effect on the health of Albertans. Poor air quality has been linked to a number of health conditions, including:
- chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- heart disease, including chest pain and congestive heart failure
- stroke and diabetes
Who’s at risk?
The following groups are the most affected by poor air quality:
- children and seniors
- people participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors
- people with lung disease, heart disease or diabetes
Under existing federal regulations, coal-fired power plants must meet GHG emission standards or retire when they reach 50 years of operation. This means that 12 of Alberta’s 18 coal-fired generating plants would be retired by 2030. Without action, the remaining 6 generating units could continue emitting harmful pollution, reducing air quality and impacting human health – in one case until 2061.
Under Alberta's new Climate Leadership Plan, there will be no pollution from coal-fired electricity generation by 2030. Coal-fired plants will be phased out and replaced by renewable energy and natural gas-fired electricity, or by using technology to produce zero pollution.
This will be achieved through the following actions:
Manage the transition from coal-fired power plants to renewable energy and natural gas power.
By 2030, two-thirds of Alberta’s coal generating capacity will be replaced by renewable energy; one-third will be replaced by natural gas. Government will ensure that workers, communities and affected companies are treated fairly in this process.
Impose a carbon price and improved emissions performance standard.
Starting in 2018, coal-fired generators will pay $30 per tonne of CO2 on emissions based on an industry-wide performance standard.
Offer incentives for renewable generation.
By 2030, renewable sources like wind and solar will account for up to 30 per cent of electricity generation.
Alberta will accomplish its transition with policies that fit with Alberta’s unique energy market to ensure that the electricity system continues to be reliable.
A phase-out of coal pollution has been endorsed by a coalition of health professionals, including:
- Alberta Medical Association
- The Lung Association, Alberta & Northwest Territories
- Asthma Society of Canada
- Alberta Public Health Association
- Canadian Public Health Association
- Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
- United Nurses of Alberta
- Health Sciences Association of Alberta
The Coalition’s research suggests coal is responsible for more than 100 deaths and 4,000 asthma episodes each year.
MAR 16 2016
Terry Boston, the retired head of North America’s largest power grid, will lead discussions with coal-fired electricity generation owners as the province transitions from coal to cleaner sources of power.