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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.”

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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.

3 Responses to “Greenwashing and Whining”

  1. JimBobby says:

    Whooee! I hear this all the time — “storing electricity generated by turbines remains an abstract concept”. Usually, it is preceded by “the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.”

    Storing energy is hardly an abstract concept. Hydro=electric is generally produced by reservoirs and dams. When we use wind and solar, we can keep the water in the reservoir and store it for later use. We can also use excess wind and solar to pump water uphill and use that energy when the sun ain’t shining or the wind ain’t blowing.

    In the US southwest, they’re using solar to pump compressed air into large tanks. At night, the compressed air is bled off through a turbine.

    Province to province arrangements have been proposed whereby wind and solar from Ontario is traded to Quebec for clean James Bay hydro. Again, water kept above the dam is stored energy. Alberta and BC could be doing something similar, as you mentioned.

    As far as what “remains an abstract concept,” CCS is far more abstract and unproven than centuries old water power. Also abstract is the disposal and long term storage of nuclear waste. Sometimes, the old, tried and true, proven methods are superior to unproven, money-pit, whizbang techno-dreamland “solutions.”

    JB

  2. Richard says:

    Hey JimBobby… You’re a smart man!

    It’s exactly as you say; we have many simple and ingenious engineering solutions to the intermittent nature of renewables. It just makes me laugh when deniers try to throw all manner of insurmountable problems in the way, as if they’ve thought of something deep and profound that has escaped all the researchers with PhDs.

  3. Canada also has huge wind potential in the Hudson Bay region.
    The arguments against wind are the same in the U.S.
    We have 1% or so wind energy and they’re arguing against wind because of it’s intermittency. I try to point out that it’s a little early to be too concerned about that, since Spain seems to manage with 12% wind energy and Denmark with 20%.
    Then they tell you wind can’t amount to enough power.
    Point out that America’s wind power increased by 8.3 GW last year, the equivalent of 2.5 nuclear reactors built in one year. This includes a 30% capacity factor for wind. And to really embarrass those who blame China, note that they increased their wind energy by over 6 GW last year.

    This article explains why storage is not the only tool for integrating renewables into the grid.
    Storage: The Best Renewable Energy Integration Strategy?
    http://www.altenergystocks.com/archives/2009/05/storage_the_best_renewable_energy_integration_strategy_1.html

    This is a stock website but has some worthwhile articles.
    Like this one on solar thermal vs. coal.
    http://www.altenergystocks.com/archives/2009/04/why_csp_should_not_try_to_be_coal.html
    Not something that Canada can use, but makes the case that the dispatchable power from CSP with heat storage is in many ways better than base load power.

    There’s was also an interesting article recently, about the economics of wind energy and feed in tarrifs in Europe. It shows how wind energy lowers consumer electricity bills.

    http://www.eurotrib.com/story/2009/5/1/174635/6513

    “studies in Germany, Denmark and Spain prove that the net cost of feed-in tariffs in these countries is actually negative, i.e. an apparent fixed cost imposed on consumers ends up reducing their bills!”

    “as noted in my text, wind is already cost-competitive with other technologies; it is its high fixed cost, lower marginal cost which makes it require a feed-in tariff, not its lack of competitivity. But there is no subsidy per se: as I note, the overall effect of the feed-in tariff is to lower the price paid by the rate payers who are bearing that tariff.”