Editor: I mashed these two posts together because they are so similar, but I still wanted to post them both.

In the Globe and Mail, Marc Jaccard wisely pointed out the gaping flaws in the Canadian pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% by 2020. The pivot point is a proposed new coal-burning power plant in B.C.:

Stephen Harper can’t allow new coal-fired electricity plants to be built, such as the one Maxim Power is proposing in Alberta, and achieve his promise to reduce Canadian greenhouse-gas emissions 17 per cent by 2020. As a researcher of energy-economy systems, I say this with virtual certainty. I also know that any scholar in my field would agree with me, and that the Prime Minister’s expert advisers would tell him the same thing.

There are two stories here. The first is that Canada has made many emissions pledges but repeatedly failed to enact any plan to meet those pledges. This is not a partisan issue. It happened under majority and minority Liberal governments, and it is happening under minority and now majority Conservative governments:

In 2007, Mr. Harper committed Canada to a 2020 target for greenhouse-gas reduction but hasn’t implemented policies that would achieve it. Like Mr. Chrétien, Mr. Harper must know his scant policies will fail. Recently released internal government documents show he’s receiving information from civil servants telling him his current policies are not transforming the energy-economy system in the direction he’s promised.

The second story is that climate policy is ineffective and meaningless without short-term and long-term goals. With no short-term emissions target, we end up delaying shifts in the energy infrastructure, and in the case of the coal-burning power plant, committing to future emissions which make meeting the long-term goal more difficult if not impossible. Jaccard praises the approach taken by the Campbell government in B.C.:

In 2007, then-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell also committed to a 2020 emissions reduction target. But to convince people of his sincerity – especially after two decades of climate policy failure by all Canadian governments at all levels – Mr. Campbell acted very differently. First, he got an independent body to set interim targets for 2012 and 2016, so people would know within a political time frame if he were on track to keep his promise. Second, he asked his advisers what investments needed to happen in 2007, and every year thereafter, to meet the 2020 target. On that basis, he immediately implemented a zero-emission electricity policy, which caused the cancellation of two proposed coal-fired electricity plants that had signed preliminary supply deals with BC Hydro.

Granted this approach is certainly easier, and more politically palatable, in a jurisdication where hydro-power is abundant. Nevertheless, it is a good model to follow.

The Reality of Canada's New Regs on Coal Plant Emissions

Then, on Friday, the Canadian Minister of the Environment announced new emissions rules for coal plants which supposed encourage a shift to effective capture and storage of carbon. And, yes, you may be right to be suspicious about any new regulations announced on a Friday afternoon in the middle of August, when the vast majority of Canadians are planning for the weekend and ignoring the news. According to Minister Peter Kent:

These proposed regulations take into account the fact that many electricity facilities across Canada are old and need to be replaced soon. We're acting now to ensure that power companies understand today, the rules that will affect the new investments they have to make tomorrow. It allows for an orderly process - the bedrock of certainty.

The scant news coverage pointed out that the new standards only apply to plants built after July 1, 2015, thus exempted some proposed new coal plants.

That includes Calgary-based Maxim Power Corp.'s contentious proposal for a 500-megawatt expansion at its HR Milner facility, which received final approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission earlier this month and must be built by July 31, 2015 - a condition of the go-ahead (Calgary Herald)

The actual regulations may prove to be even more controversial. I encourage interesting followers of Maribo to read the text of the regulations (pdf from Environment Canada) and provide their interpretation in the comments.
In my reading of the reults, I found what I think, but I could be mistaken, are very large loopholes which could prevent any real reduction in carbon emissions from coal-electricity generation until at least 2025.


First, here's the actual emissions limit, and I'll leave the intrepretation of the number to the readers:
3. (1) A responsible person for a new unit or an old unit must not, on average, emit with
an intensity of more than 375 tonnes CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in the
unit for each GWh of electricity produced by the unit during a calendar year.
Then it gets complicated:


(b) a declaration that includes the following statements:
(i) that, based on the economic feasibility study referred to in paragraph (c), the unit,
when operating with an integrated carbon capture and storage system is, to the best of
the responsible person’s knowledge and belief, economically viable, and
(ii) that, based on the technical feasibility study referred to in paragraph (d) and the
implementation plan referred to in paragraph (f), the responsible person expects to
satisfy the requirements referred to in section 9 and, as a result, to be in compliance with
subsection 3(1) by January 1, 2025;

So, again, if I am reading this right, you can gain an exemption from the regulations if you are able to conduct a study showing that the CCS system will be capable of meeting the new emissions regulation by 2025.

Putting this all together: 

1. Any coal plants built before July, 2015 are exempt. Given the expected shift towards natural gas in the next few years, it is entirely possible that the regulations will not end up applying to any coal-burning plants, as all the coal-burning plants will be "grandfathered" in.

2. Any coal plants built after July, 2015 are exempt until 2025 so long as it is technologically possible to install a CCS system by 2025. Therefore, CCS systems are unlikely to be operating at any large scale coal plants in Canada for another 15 years. This delay may reflect the technological challenge of CCS or the values of the current government, or both.

Hopefully, I'm wrong.

Photo by ProactiveInvestor.