Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speeds up Canada’s climate plan; further coal mining jobs in U.S. and Canada at risk

Canada will completely phase out coal power by 2030 as part of the country’s goal to meet greenhouse-gas reduction targets.

Upon returning from the United Nations-sponsored climate-change conference in Morocco, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said coal power in the country represents close to 10% of greenhouse-gas emissions coming from four provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Coal also accounts for half of the electricity generation in the Saskatchewan, making it a point of contention between the province’s premier, Brad Wall, and the federal government in Ottawa.

On Monday, Wall said to unilaterally phase out coal generation exposes a “disingenuous commitment” to work with the country’s regions — especially those that rely on commodities to drive growth — on a national climate-change strategy, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Another blow to U.S. coal mines

Canada is the world’s 12th-largest coal producer, according to government data, and roughly three-quarters of the coal it imports originates in the United States.

McKenna said 80% of Canada’s electricity comes from non-carbon emitting sources, and the goal is to increase that to 90% by 2030 by amending existing regulations to phase out coal. The minister said the move is consistent with other countries such as France, the U.K., Netherlands, Denmark and Austria, which have accelerated their plans to phase out coal.

Layoffs likely for Canada’s coal workers

The industry around coal in Canada is significant, and will be hit hard by the government’s new measures. Some 42,000 people are directly or indirectly employed in the extraction of 69 million tons of coal each year, reports CBC.

“One of the huge benefits has always been the jobs that go with it — it’s a labor-intensive process,” Warren Mabee, the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, said.

“Those are voters’ jobs and lots of politicians have courted them for years and years.”

Mabee said many workers in the country’s 19 coal mines will be laid off as the plants go dark, while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.

He also said job losses at coal-powered plants were likely a forgone conclusion — even before McKenna’s announcement — because so many of them are old.

Early closures could mean a spike in electricity rates

The economic impact of closing down the coal plants could be more wide spread than just the coal mining industry itself, however. The move would force the closure of several coal-fired plants before the end of their economic lives, causing a spike in hydro rates that would be passed on to customers in monthly bills.

In New Brunswick, where provincial Crown corporation NB Power operates the Belledune coal-fired plant, rates could increase by as much as 38% to account for the charges associated with decommissioning that plant prematurely, the utility has estimated.

Belledune would become a “stranded asset,” Ross Galbraith, the business manager of the IBEW Local 37, the union that represents utility workers in that province, said.

“This would be a gigantic burden for a province where many ratepayers and industries are already struggling,” Galbraith said. “This huge impact on our power rates is unacceptable, given the very minor difference it would make to greenhouse gas volumes globally.”

The plant, built in 1993, was set to reach the end of its economic life in 2043, but the new 2030 timeline means some bills will come due earlier than expected, as loans were amortized over a longer period.

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