Mixed reaction among premiers to phasing out coal-fired electricity
Published Monday, November 21, 2016 7:36PM EST
Nova Scotia’s premier says he’s pleased the federal Liberals have decided to phase out coal-fired electricity nationally in 2030 while making an exception for his province. Saskatchewan’s premier, on the other hand, says the plan represents a broken commitment from the prime minister.
N.S. Premier Stephen McNeil said the exception being made for his province represents fair recognition of his government’s work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“It indicates to me that [the Liberals] were prepared to work with individual provinces to best help them get to a way to reduce greenhouse gases without severely impacting their economy,” McNeil told CTV’s Power Play.
The Liberal plan means consumers in Nova Scotia who have already seen their electricity bills rise as the result of the provincial utility buying more wind and hydroelectric power won’t face “sticker shock,” according to McNeil.
His comments are in contrast to those of Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who issued a statement Monday morning blasting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for announcing another part of his clean-energy strategy ahead of next month’s premiers’ meeting.
“In March the prime minister agreed to work together with the provinces to develop a pan-Canadian approach to climate change that would be discussed and finalized at the next First Ministers’ meeting in the fall, which has now been set for early December,” Wall said.
“The federal government has now violated that commitment for a second time,” he said, referring to Trudeau’s surprise announcement that the Liberals will impose a national carbon tax on provinces that don’t have a cap-and-trade system for emissions.
Wall wrote on his Facebook page Saturday “that a carbon tax was not the right approach before (Donald) Trump’s election and it is definitely NOT the right approach now.”
“Are we really going to put artificial and unilateral restraints on our national economy that will place us at a huge disadvantage with our biggest trading partner and the world's largest economy?” Wall added.
McNeil said that regardless of Trump’s election, he supports action. “I think the world is telling us they’re going to require goods and services coming from economies that are respective of the environment,” he said.
Timing raises questions
Political analysts say the timing of the phase-out announcement – just weeks before the federal government must approve or reject the Trans Mountain pipeline project – suggests the Liberals are trying to appease voters who will be upset by that decision.
Bruce Anderson, Chairman of Abacus Data, told Power Play that he believes the coal policy will allow the Liberals to say that “Canada is making more deliberate, and aggressive and ambitious steps toward reducing our oil and gas reserves than we were before,” while still developing the oilsands.
“It will be challenging for voters who are progressive,” he added.
The Liberals currently hold all eleven of Nova Scotia’s seats, but only one of Saskatchewan’s 14 and only four of the 34 in Alberta.
The three provinces combined have three-quarters of Canadian coal mines and are also the biggest users of coal-fired electricity. Although coal represents only 10 per cent of Canada’s electricity use, it accounts for about half of electricity consumed in those three provinces, according to the Coal Association of Canada.
Alberta’s NDP government, led by Rachel Notley, announced in March that the province will phase out coal by 2030.
Ontario’s Liberal government fully eliminated coal in 2014 but has faced mounting criticism in recent years over rising electricity bills.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Monday that the phase out will allow Canada to produce 90 per cent of electricity from sustainable sources by 2030, up from 80 per cent now. Provinces can replace coal with cleaner sources or use carbon capture and storage technology, according to the minister.
Robin Campbell, President of the Coal Association of Canada, told Power Play that his industry was not consulted and that he believes “shutting down coal in Canada is short-sighted.”
Campbell estimates there are 45,000 jobs directly or indirectly supported by Canada’s coal industry. Losing those jobs would have “a devastating effect” on mining communities, he said.