You read that right. Alberta has phased out a fossil fuel. Not, unfortunately the tar sands. That would be way too much to hope for, but this is an important success nonetheless. The province’s electricity grid is operating coal free with zero coal anticipated in the short or long term.

When it came to its power supply, Alberta was once a coal dominant province. In 2015, coal provided 64 percent of its electrical generation. Alberta burnt more coal for electricity than the rest of Canada combined. This often surprise people—when you think Alberta you tend to think oil.

But for our own power it was coal. And then in 2015, we elected an NDP government. The target date for coal phase-out at that time was 2061. The NDP instituted their Climate Leadership Plan which included revising the target down to 2030. This was one climate objective that the UCP did not scrap when they became the government. And here we are, coal essentially phased out six years earlier than the revised goal, almost 40 years ahead of the initial goal.

This will make for a healthier Alberta and a healthier Canada. Coal-fired plants emit a variety of chemicals and particles harmful to health including fine particulate matter, the air pollutant that has been most clearly and consistently linked to chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. They are also a significant source of mercury, a persistent toxic that accumulates in the aquatic food chain and can affect neurological development. All this in addition to being the worst fossil fuel producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

Phasing out coal results in avoiding thousands of asthma attacks and hundreds of ER visits, hospitalizations and premature deaths every year with savings of hundreds of millions of dollars for our health system. A study in 2008 indicated that the economic costs in Alberta associated with the health impacts of air pollution from coal plants was in the range of $300 million annually. That didn’t include the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

Alberta’s commendable coal phase-out contributes significantly to the country’s national target of phasing out coal-fired generation by 2030 and a net-zero emissions electricity sector by 2035.

Ontario led by completing its phase-out in 2014. This pioneering action was the single largest climate measure of its time in North America. Manitoba followed in 2019.

Of Canada’s remaining coal-burning provinces, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are committed to phase-out by the 2030 target. Only New Brunswick intends to use coal well past 2030 making it the national laggard on coal emissions.

So kudos for Alberta on the coal front in the fight against global warming. Now what about the tar sands front? That may take a while.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *