OK, here’s the basic story.
Canada’s Environment Minister Jim Prentice says that his government will not allow any new coal plants to be built in Canada without carbon capture and sequestration technology, a sure sign that the US position on GHG emissions is even affecting policies north of the border. Prentice’s new position has already angered power generators in Alberta — which is the Conservative government’s power base, and home to the Tar Sands and 27 coal-fired power plants. Judging by editorials in Calgary and Edmonton newspapers, it appears that Prentice hadn’t spoken to any industry stakeholders before floating his trial balloon.
TransAlta CEO Steve Snyder, whose company runs Canada’s largest fleet of coal-fired generation plants, claims that Prentice’s comments took him completely by surprise. “Does this impact Alberta? Of course it does. We have the largest percentage of coal-fired generation in Canada… We have it because we have this huge carbon resource, which is very valuable… [But it] is a very tough challenge to solve CO2 and not bankrupt the province and meet all of our commitments.”
Snyder also criticized the government’s commitment to CCS and to the province; after all, he says, the Alberta government has placed $2 billion in the CSS pot, and that figure dwarfs federal government funding.
“I’m not quite sure why we seem to want to put billions of dollars into the automotive industry, an industry which seems not to produce a good product and hasn’t been particularly well-run. But we don’t want to put a fraction of that to solve carbon from coal plants.”
OK, a handful comments.
1) So far, Prentice isn’t promising much. While I’m happy to see him actually doing something as environment minister — until now, he seemed to think his job was to trash it — his announcement was remarkably short of details. He also talked about a cap-and-trade plan that will be announced in the fall, but it’s likely to be a weak one because he can’t risk pissing off his friends in Calgary and Edmonton.
2) During the last Canadian election, the Conservative government fought tooth and nail against pricing carbon in any way, shape, or form. What has changed? Is cap-and-trade suddenly a good thing?
3) Canada doesn’t generate that much electricity from coal; only 18 percent of Canadian emissions come from coal-fired power, compared to 30 percent of GHG emissions in the US.
4) Prentice and his Conservative cronies haven’t spent any money to support renewable energy sources in Canada. The stimulus package offered pocket change. Energy efficiency would do far more to cut Canadian emissions, but Prentice and Harper are MIA. (I recently saw a graph suggesting that Canada is the world’s most inefficient nation. I’ll investigate more and write about it).
5) Prentice is touting carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as the solution to all our coal-fired power problems. This is mostly smoke and mirrors. CCS may work, but it will need to be tested at demonstration plants costing hundreds of millions, and then implemented on new plants at the cost of billions. We’re at least 15 — and probably 25 — years away before we sequester any significant carbon from this unproven technology.
Why don’t we just cut right to the chase and invest all that money in renewables. Wind, wave and solar power from BC is a far better bet to replace Alberta’s death-dealing coal-fired plants. And Atlantic Canada has even more potential.
6) How much of the coal burnt in coal-fired plants could be replaced with low-carbon biomass. Joe Romm at Climate Progress says quite a bit.
7) These proposals for CCS and cap-and-trade probably won’t kick in for several years, allowing coal-fired power plants to do what they do now: pollute with impunity. And the CCS requirements only affect new power generation… There’s little incentive for current facilities to change the way they do business without a serious price on carbon, and that’s because, right now, it’s much cheaper to pay to pollute than to cut emissions. That’s what the Conservatives want… for us to use as much oil and coal as we can because that helps Alberta.
8 ) Cripes all mighty, capitalists are such bloody whiners! The TransAlta CEO sounds like a four-year-old who wants to take his toys and go home. The Captains of Industry in Alberta are completely unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions. The facts are these: Alberta is the country’s worst GHG polluter. 2) Alberta’s pollution is set to rise dramatically. 3) Our federal government already supports Alberta’s industries by allowing them to use our air for free. Its time they grow a set and pay for the privilege.
9) Read this cheerleading editorial by Deborah Yedlin at The Calgary Herald.
While the strong winds blowing through the southern part of the province have potential as a renewable source of energy, storing electricity generated by turbines remains an abstract concept, as well as the issue that turbines are on the unsightly side. All this, cast against the fact that thermal coal is plentiful and, therefore, cheap.
Let me get this right? Wind turbines are unsightly, but the Alberta Tar Sands and coal-fired power polluters are… attractive.
This editorial is so wrong-headed, I don’t know where to begin. Even the newspapers columnists in Alberta are wusses.