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Environment Minister to unveil coal-power emissions regulations

A dragline works in coal pits in front of a SaskPower station near Estevan, Sask., on March 25, 2008.

Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press

Environment Minister Peter Kent will release the government's long-promised emissions regulations for the coal-fired power sector Friday, which will encourage the industry to adopt carbon capture and storage technology for new plants.

Mr. Kent is due to unveil the draft regulations in Estevan, Sask., where SaskPower is building a $1.24-billion, 110-megawatt power plant that will capture carbon dioxide emissions and sell them to oil companies for use in stimulating the recovery of crude.

Ottawa first announced the planned coal regulations in June of 2010, and had been expected to release the draft regulations in April but they were delayed because of the election.

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The rules would limit coal-fired plants to emission levels no greater than those of high-efficiency natural gas-fired power plants, but would not set regulations for new gas plants.

Industry will have 60 days to comment on the new rules before they become in 2012; they will cover all plants that are commissioned after July 1, 2015.

That start-up date is controversial because one Alberta company, Maxim Power Corp., has received approval to build a coal-fired plant in the northwestern part of the province without incorporating carbon capture technology (CCS).

Maxim is racing against the regulatory clock, as its planned commissioning date is mid-2015. Environmentalists complain that Mr. Kent was violating the spirit of the regulations by allowing Maxim to proceed.

The rules will have the greatest impact in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, the provinces that rely most heavily on coal for their power. While they won't affect existing generating stations, they will force utilities to either build CCS-equipped coal plants, or turn to natural gas, hydroelectric or renewables.

Nova Scotia's Emera Inc. has cited the planned federal rules as one factor in its decision to partner with Nalcor Energy Inc. to build the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project and ship the electricity through under-water cables to its home market.

The federal government is also due today to announce its loan guarantees for the Lower Churchill development.

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The Harper government is now moving on two fronts to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions over the longer term: with regulations covering coal-fired power and fuel efficiency rules for car and trucks.

However, it was expected this summer to announce its intention to begin regulating new refineries and oil sands upgraders but has delayed that announcement under pressure from the industry.

And there is no indication when Ottawa will introduce measures to reduce emissions from existing power plants, or from new or existing oil sands development, which represent the fastest growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Mr. Kent is promising a implement a "sector by sector" approach that will set greenhouse-gas performance rules for all major industrial emitters.

But critics argue Ottawa is failing to pursue climate measures that would achieve its promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. The coal rules, for example, will have little impact prior to that date because few existing plants are scheduled to go out of service in the next 10 years.

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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