In 2015, the Government of Alberta announced that it would be eliminating emissions from coal-powered generation by 2030. As a part of emissions elimination, 12 of Alberta’s 18 coal-fired power plants — which, combined, produce almost half of Alberta’s electricity — will be shut down in the next decade. The end-of-life dates for the remaining six range from 2036 to 2061.
Read on to learn about how this will affect the Alberta energy market, alternatives to coal-derived power, and how coal plants can affect our health and more.
What are coal-fired power plants?
Coal-fired power plants are power plants that combust coal to produce energy – according to The World Coal Association, coal-fuelled power plants currently fuel 38% of global electricity.
Why is coal-powered energy being phased out? Why is it the government’s goal to phase out coal-powered generation by 2030?
By reducing and eliminating emissions from coal-powered generation, fewer greenhouse gases such as CO2 will be created. With fewer greenhouse gases emitted, global warming will become more manageable. In the next section, we explain how the existence of coal-powered fire plants affect the health of Canadians and why phasing out coal-powered energy is important.
The health costs of coal-fired power plants
According to an article from the CBC, the pollution released from Alberta’s coal-fired power plants costs the healthcare system approximately $300 million a year. In addition to this, such pollutants also contribute to over 4,000 asthma episodes, over 700 emergency room visits and around 80 hospital admissions each year.
Furthermore, the healthcare costs associated with treating pollution-associated illnesses plus the costs of lost productivity due to such illness are projected to be more than $760 million between 2015 and 2030.
A report from The Pembina Foundation, The Asthma Society of Canada, The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and the Lung Association found that the economic damages from the health impacts of air pollution costs between 0.7 – 2.1 cents per kWh of electricity generated via coal.
When health and environmental costs are factored in, other cleaner forms of energy cost around the same amount as coal does, according to the Broadbent Institute.
Energy pricing: How this affects the energy market and utility costs in the province
As coal-powered electricity is being phased out, this will result in an increase in the usage and investment of renewable energy, as well as natural gas-powered electricity generation.
In the short term, some increases in the cost of electricity may occur – this could be due to coal-fired power plants closing down earlier than expected or companies needing to source their energy from more expensive sources.
It’s important to note that consumer energy bills are not expected to increase drastically by two or three times because of the phasing out of coal-powered electricity. In fact, increases in the prices of electricity were predicted even before any coal phase-out announcements, according to the 2014 Alberta Electric System Operator, Transmission Rate Impact Projection Workbook.
Even though pool prices are predicted to rise a significant amount until 2023, it’s important to remember that consumer power bills are made up of several costs other than the cost of electricity, such as transmission costs and distribution costs. So, while power bills may cost more, they will not cost double or triple the usual amount.
What are the new sources of energy in the province?
In response to the phasing out of coal-generated electricity, several coal-powered plants are now being converted to run on natural gas while other projects involving substantial new wind and solar generation are being introduced and maintained, according to an article from the CBC.
You can learn more about the electricity sources of each province in Canada from our post about it.
What has been done since Alberta started transitioning away from coal-fired power plants?
“Where are we now?” You must be asking yourself. Coal power has decreased drastically in Alberta – it now only accounts for a quarter of Alberta’s electricity, according to the CBC. A large part of this change was due to carbon pricing – in 2018, the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation set a common baseline for all electricity generators at the emissions intensity of an efficient combined-cycle natural gas plant.
Such a scenario increased carbon costs significantly for coal plants while efficient natural gas-powered plants saw declines in their carbon costs, encouraging the use of natural gas over coal for electricity production.
Alberta has also announced and built several renewable energy projects within the province since announcing its transition away from coal-generated electricity. Below are some of the main companies and green energy projects in Alberta:
- Strathmore Power – A 40.5 megawatt project located in Strathmore, Alberta, that is currently under construction with commercial operations expected in early 2022.
- Built a 201-megawatt wind farm 60km southwest of Medicine Hat.
EDP Renewables Canada Ltd.
- Built a 248-megawatt wind farm east of Hanna, roughly 50km north of Oyen.
- Will build the 202-megawatt Cypress Wind Power project, located near Medicine Hat, in partnership with Blood-Kainai First Nation.
Enel Green Power North America Inc.
- Built two projects, a 115-megawatt wind farm and a 31-megawatt wind farm, just outside of Pincher Creek.
Capstone Infrastructure Corporation
- Will build the 48-megawatt Buffalo Atlee wind farms 1, 2 and 3, located near Brooks, in partnership with Sawridge First Nation.
Potentia Renewables Inc.
- Will build the 113-megawatt Stirling Wind project, located near Lethbridge, in partnership with the Paul First Nation.
- Will build the 122-megawatt Jenner Wind Power project 1 near Brooks.
- Will build the 71-megawatt Jenner Wind Power project 2 near Brooks.