Alberta

It’s Official: Coal Just Became Uneconomic in Canada

Coal power plant

Marijuana wasn’t the only green thing being celebrated on April 20.

In a somewhat unexpected move, the Calgary-based electricity company TransAlta announced it will accelerate the phase-out of eight coal-fired power units — representing almost 3,000 megawatts of generating capacity — with six of those to be converted to gas-fired generation between 2021 and 2023.

The remaining two will be closed on Jan. 1, 2018.

It makes complete economic sense that they did that,” says Binnu Jeyakumar, electricity program director at the Pembina Institute, pointing to expiring power purchase agreements (PPAs) and an increasing inability for coal to compete with natural gas and renewables.

While calculations vary, it’s estimated that the conversion of the six coal plants to simple cycle gas operations — a process that will cost around $300 million in total — will cut emissions by between 30 and 40 per cent per megawatt hour of electricity produced.

It’s Still Unclear How Alberta’s Tailings Will Be Cleaned Up Or Who Will Pay For It

Alberta oilsands tailings ponds, Alex MacLean

For years, Alberta’s government has reassured the public that it has a plan to ensure the oilsands’ 1.2 trillion litres of hazardous tailings are permanently dealt with after mines shut down.

That assertion is becoming less convincing by the day.

Industry still hasn’t decided on a viable long-term storage technology to begin testing. The fund to cover tailings liabilities in case of bankruptcy is arguably extremely underfunded. And there are concerns from the likes of the Pembina Institute that the future costs for tailings treatment will be far greater than anticipated.

Martin Olszynski, assistant professor in law at University of Calgary, told DeSmog Canada such questions simply can’t be left unanswered.

It would the height of unfairness if at the end of all this massive profit and wealth generation, Albertans were left on the hook for what will be landscape-sized disturbances that are potentially very harmful and hazardous to humans and wildlife,” he said.

Geothermal Makes Breakthrough in Federal Budget … Now What?

geothermal energy iceland

For more than a decade, advocates of geothermal energy have pushed for the same kind of treatment other energy producers receive from the federal government — with little progress.

But with the release of the federal budget on March 22, that changed.

The budget included the expansion of financial mechanisms to geothermal, which will allow these emerging renewable energy operators to write off more expenses. The change is significant for geothermal energy, which requires higher upfront investments than wind or solar.

Tweet: “This is a milestone for us. We’re legitimate. We’re there.” http://bit.ly/2orJlr4 @Alison_Energy @CanGEA #cdnpoli #geothermal #renewablesThis is a milestone for us,” said Alison Thompson, chair and co-founder of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA). “We’re legitimate. We’re there.”

Alberta’s Pipeline Regulation a ‘Facade’: Experts

Oil pipeline

The Alberta Energy Regulator — responsible for regulating more than 430,000 kilometres of pipelines in the province — has finally started to try to clean up its image.

In the last two weeks of February, the agency launched a “pipeline performance report” that graphs recent pipeline incidents, it levelled a $172,500 fine against Murphy Oil for a 2015 spill that went undetected for 45 days and it shut down all operations by the notoriously uncooperative Lexin Resources, including 201 pipelines.*

But critics suggest there are major systemic flaws in the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) that still need to be addressed if pipeline safety is to be taken seriously.

It’s absolutely ridiculous,” says Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada. “You’re talking about a spill that went undetected for 45 days. And the company was fined an amount that they could likely make in less than an hour. That doesn’t send any message to the company. It definitely doesn’t send any message to the industry. And it doesn’t reform company behaviour.”

What The Oilsands Sell-Off Actually Means

Oilsands trucks

The last few months have been marked by some massive shifts in the oilsands.

In December, there was the $830 million Statoil sale to Athabasca Oil, followed in January and February by the writing down of billions of barrels of reserves by Imperial Oil, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil.

On March 9, Shell sold a majority of its oilsands assets to Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) in a huge $7.25 billion sale, while Marathon Oil split its Canadian subsidiary between Shell and CNRL for a total of $2.5 billion.

The question is: why are all of these companies selling their oilsands assets? While some celebrate the moves as successes for the climate movement, others blame the Alberta NDP for the exodus of internationals.

Tweet: Experts say #oilsands sell-off has more to do w/ a broader shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical http://bit.ly/2nK3zyQ #ableg #cdnpoliBut experts say the reality has more to do with a broader economic shift that’s made oilsands uneconomical — for the time being at least.

Four Things You Need to Know About How Coal Affects Human Health

Woman with respirator

By Benjamin Israël for the Pembina Institute.

In November 2016, the Government of Canada announced its intention to phase out coal as a source of power. Since then, many voices have misrepresented or questioned the impact that coal emissions have on Canadians’ health and our environment.

In order to clear the air, we’ve answered four of the biggest questions being asked about the link between an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power and human health.

Canada Risks International Embarrassment Over Mismanagement of World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Wood Buffalo National Park salt flats

Canada’s largest World Heritage Site is under threat from unfettered oilsands development and hydro dams on the Peace River — where the B.C. government is now planning to build the massive Site C dam — says a hard-hitting report by a United Nations agency.

While contaminants from the oilsands are affecting water and air quality, water flows through Wood Buffalo National Park are being strangled by dams, according to the highly critical report by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature

The report warns that, if there is not a “major and timely” response to its recommendations the organization will recommend that Wood Buffalo National Park be included in the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list usually reserved for sites in war-torn countries or those facing other disasters.

The park, made up of 4.5 million hectares of boreal plains in northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, has been affected by decades of massive industrial development along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, along with poor management and lack of overall consideration of the effect of projects, it says.

The scale, pace and complexity of industrial development along the critical corridors of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers is exceptional and does not appear to be subject to adequate analysis to underpin informed decision-making and the development of matching policy, governance and management responses,” says the executive summary, which adds that the park is also subject to the additional stress of climate change.

The Alberta Advantage: Solar Rebates Give Homeowners a Boost

Alberta’s residential solar industry has chugged along for decades without government support.

That dry spell finally drew to a close on Monday, when the provincial NDP government announced a two-year, $36 million rebate program to help bring down the costs for residents, business and nonprofits who want to install solar projects.

By 2020, the number of solar installations on rooftops is expected to increase from 1,800 to 10,000 systems, which will create about 900 jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a half million tonnes (or the same as taking 100,000 cars off the road). The program is funded through the province's carbon tax revenue.

Alberta Regulator Failing to Accurately Record Oil Spills: New Study

Oil spill

This article originally appeared on The Tyee.

A study commissioned at the request of a First Nation says the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has not reported accurately on the scale or impact of daily crude oil and salt water spills in the petro province.


The regulator has not provided “the public with accurate, credible, complete, unbiased and timely information and fails in its responsibility to protect the environment,” the study concluded.


Kevin Timoney, author of the report and an independent ecologist based in Alberta, called for the province’s auditor general to audit “the failure of the regulator.”


Timoney’s review of the regulator’s spill database found spills that were not recorded in the database at all, or didn’t include information on volume spilled. 


Six Handy Facts About Alberta’s Coal Phase-Out

Alberta’s decision to phase out coal-fired power by 2030 represents a big shift (coal currently generates just over half of Alberta’s electricity), so it’s not exactly surprising that the phase-out has led to a fair bit of debate.

Throw in a complex lawsuit, threats of increasing power prices and a resurgence of the “clean coal” myth, and it becomes nearly impossible to figure out what’s actually going on.

Often missed in the conversation is the fact that 12 of the 18 coal-fired power plants in Alberta would have had to shut down by 2030 anyway under federal regulations introduced by former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Quite a lot of other facts are getting lost in the noise as well, so DeSmog Canada delved into the research to come up with these six handy facts.

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