In-Depth

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.

What You Need to Know About Fracking In Canada

Fracking Fort St John Garth Lenz

Back in 2007, when Alberta landowner Jessica Ernst filed her lawsuit over water contamination from the hydraulic fracturing of shallow coal seams near her property, most Canadians had never even heard of “fracking.”

Ten years later, nearly everyone has at least heard of the controversial process of accessing oil and gas deposits.

To some, it’s an economic saviour. To others, it’s a threat to fresh water and yet another step toward climate change catastrophe. But many others don’t know what to think, especially when some provinces embrace fracking while others put a freeze on the practice.

To help you sort it out, we’ve put together this primer on what fracking really is, where it’s happening in Canada and what’s known (and not known) about the risks to the environment and human health.

B.C. Liberals Grant Major Political Donor Permission to Log Endangered Caribou Habitat

caribou recovery forestry wolf cull

The B.C. government is granting logging permits in critical caribou habitat, despite evidence that B.C.’s Southern Mountain Caribou are being driven to extinction by habitat loss — a move that has driven citizens to call on the federal government to enforce the Species At Risk Act. 

Among the hardest hit regions in the province is the area in and around Wells Gray Park, the scenic home to Helmcken Falls, two hours north of Kamloops.

There, people like Trevor Goward, a longtime local resident, naturalist and professional lichenologist, are sounding the alarm over the province’s failure to protect caribou.

Meet the First Nation Above the Arctic Circle That Just Went Solar

Solar panels in Old Crow, Yukon

Across Canada’s north, diesel has long been the primary mode of providing year-round electricity to remote communities — but with the advent of small-scale renewables, that’s about to change.

Northern communities were already making strides toward a renewable energy future, but with $400 million committed in this year’s federal budget to establish an 11-year Arctic Energy Fund, energy security in the north has moved firmly into the spotlight.

This level of support shows positive commitment from the Canadian government on ending fossil fuel dependency in Indigenous communities and transitioning these communities to clean energy systems,” said Dave Lovekin, a senior advisor at the Pembina Institute.

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.”

The Startling Similarities Between Newfoundland's Muskrat Falls Boondoggle and B.C.'s Site C Dam

Ken Boon, Site C dam construction

Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are preparing for electricity rates to double in the next five years, adding an estimated $150 per month in power costs for the average homeowner, as a consequence of building the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam — and experts warn it could be a cautionary tale for British Columbia.

“Muskrat Falls was not the right choice for the power needs of this province,” public power company CEO Stan Marshall told the press last year, confirming the project is a “boondoggle.”

“It was a gamble and it's gone against us.”

Meantime in British Columbia, debate continues over whether to continue building the 1,100 megawatt Site C hydro dam on the Peace River, estimated to cost $9 billion, at a time that power demand has been essentially flat for 10 years, despite population growth.

There are a lot of parallels between British Columbia and Newfoundland,” David Vardy, former CEO of the Newfoundland Public Utilities Board, told DeSmog Canada. “There’s the same fixation with the megaproject.”

Teck Mining Lobbyist’s Donation to BC Liberals ‘Listed in Error,’ Company Says

BC Liberals Teck Resources Lobbyists Political Donations

Political donations made to the BC Liberals under the name of a prominent Teck Resources lobbyist were actually made by the company and were registered in error, according to the company.

A joint investigation between DeSmog Canada and University of Victoria researcher Nick Graham of the Corporate Mapping Project Tweet: Investigation uncovers 7 Teck Resources registered lobbyists who have also donated to @BCLiberals http://bit.ly/2mkY6tC #bcpoli #bcelxn17uncovered seven Teck Resources registered lobbyists who have also donated to the BC Liberals.

According to the Elections BC database, Carleigh Whitman, Tweet: Gov't relations manager for Teck made personal contributions totaling $4,275 to the @BCLiberals http://bit.ly/2mkY6tC #bcpoli #bcelxn17
manager of government relations for Teck Resources, made personal contributions totaling $4,275 to the BC Liberals.

Political donations by lobbyists are in the spotlight after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed some lobbyists are being reimbursed for their contributions, a practice that is illegal in B.C., a province with some of the weakest political donation laws in the country.

'He's a Liar': Why British Columbians Are So Over Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau, Broken Promises

This article originally appeared on iPolitics.

The man sitting at the head of the table has a face that should be on money.

It is calm, etched with wrinkle lines of infinite patience, utterly immune to honeyed words. Tweet: Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has heard more vows than parsons in Reno’s drive-thru wedding chapels http://bit.ly/2m63oML #bcpoli #cdnpoliGrand Chief Stewart Phillip has heard more vows than the parsons in Reno’s drive-thru wedding chapels — most of them destined to be broken by the politicians who made them. Yet behind the softness, the weary eyes suggest something else. These are undefeated eyes.

I am in the downtown Vancouver boardroom of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the gentle voice is saying some very tough things.

My wife and I were scheduled to march in the Chinese New Year’s parade in Vancouver, until we found out that Trudeau was going to be there,” he says. “No way was I going to meet him unless I was on one side of the barrier, and he was on the other.”

Internal Division in Gitxan First Nation Raises Questions About Informed Consent for LNG Pipeline

This investigation was reported by Trevor Jang for Discourse Media. It is the second part of an ongoing investigation into how government negotiates with First Nations for major resource development projects.

Nestled in the forests of northwestern British Columbia, Richard Wright hauls a 30-pound moose chest out of a smokehouse. He shot the animal a few days ago, just a few kilometres north of camp.

You want your wood to smoulder, not flame or get too warm. So you either get some alder or some cottonwood, which changes the flavour that you’re adding to the meat,” Wright says, after placing the chest in the back of his trunk, followed by the legs, rump, backbone and spine.

Wright is preserving food in the way the Gitxsan people here have for many generations. The act also has a deeper purpose; this camp, where he and others are living off the land for the past two years, is a form of protest, an occupation of a sort.

The Madii Lii camp, which includes a cabin, smokehouse, greenhouse and garden, strategically blocks the path of the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission (PRGT) pipeline. The 900-kilometre pipeline is proposed to carry natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to the Pacific NorthWest LNG (PNW LNG) export terminal proposed for Lelu Island on the province’s north coast.

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