Edmonton Sun Alberta has a case for coal

Feb 1, 2016

Under Premier Rachel Notley’s Climate Leadership Plan, by government decree, all coal-burning power plants in Alberta are to be shut down by 2030, with the goal of replacing 50% to 75% of that power with renewable energy.

Meanwhile, the provincial demand for electricity will grow from 14,500 megawatts (MW) today, to 17,500 MW by 2030.

This is the triumph of ideology over evidence-based science. This illogical, ill-conceived government decree will result in wasting billions of dollars with no net environmental gain.

Today in Alberta, there are 18 major coal-burning power generation units. Four are close to the end of their useful lives and will close within two years.

Of the 14 still operating, six will still have plenty of juice left come 2030.

The case for coal: coal is the cheapest, most reliable source of electricity in Alberta, crucial in keeping Alberta’s industry competitive. In 2015, it provided 43% of the province’s power.

Environmentally, thanks to technological innovation in newer plants, coal is fast catching up with natural gas as a clean-burning fuel. Coal mines and power plants provide 3,400 well-paying jobs in the province, mostly in towns like Hinton, Grande Cache, Forestburg, Wabamun and Hanna.

The environmental case: new emission-control technologies in the latest Alberta coal plants (Keephills III in 2011, Genesee III in 2005) made these plants environmentally competitive with natural gas. Natural gas produces 60% less greenhouse gas and other atmospheric pollutants than older coal plants.

Sadly, new coal technology and research in North America has dramatically slowed. Where’s the point, when the industry is on a politically-imposed death-bed?

But in tech-savvy Japan, four new super-efficient, high-temperature coal-burning plants are being built to replace that country’s Fukushima tsunami-damaged nuclear reactor — with the lowest emissions ever seen from coal..

Japanese clean-coal technologies are now being exported to India and China — new wealth creation for the Japanese from energy innovation. Saskatchewan has not banned coal burning, but instead continues to invest heavily in new coal-emission technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage.

The economic case: environmental upgrades to existing coal power plants and new plants (if allowed), would be two-thirds less expensive than replacing such plants with massive wind and solar farms.

The equation also takes into account the lowering of renewable costs, thanks to the same factors of innovation, new technology and mass production.

Hydro power, particularly run-of-river generation on the Athabasca River, holds real potential. But it’s at least 20 years away, more likely 30 after politicians and regulators have their say.

Replacing all Alberta coal units with natural gas, according to the Canadian Utilities power company, would cost $12 billion. To climb to the needed 17,500 MW by 2030 through a mix of natural gas and renewables would cost many billions more. Renewable energy sources only make economic sense when heavily subsidized.

If the current Alberta policy continues with no changes, says Coal Association of Canada President Robin Campbell (yup, the same Robin Campbell who was Alberta’s Minister of Finance) it’ll hit the taxpayer from four different directions:

• Compensation to power companies for the premature closure of coal plants (anywhere from $2 to $6 billion, be it in cash or credits).

• Direct government subsidization of wind and solar power.

• The blanket carbon tax.

• Much higher power bills to further cover the cost of renewable power generation.

The social case: Do we arbitrarily end an industry that has provided well-paying jobs for 3,400 Albertans, indirectly for many more, especially when innovation, research and applied expertise can make those jobs environmentally acceptable?

It is madness to deliberately ruin an important Alberta industry for the optics — not the substance — of environmental responsibility.

Alberta could take a far more sensible approach of building an as-green-as-possible future through electricity generation.

As new or replacement power generation is needed, the additional megawatt generation could be put out to competitive bidding. As was brilliantly proposed by Capital Power to the provincial Climate Change Panel, may the best clean technology at that point in time, at the best cost, win.

Who cares what the source is — wind, solar, hydro, coal, gas, cow manure — as long as it meets the highest of environmental standards at the cheapest cost.

Premier Notley, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous, I beg of you.

Stop this madness before it is too late.

Source: http://edmontonsun.com/2016/02/01/alberta-has-a-case-for-coal/wcm/f221dfe2-c614-4fda-9759-483414ca1673