Canada’s environment ministry has proposed tougher regulations for coal-fired power plants, but they do not go far enough to help the country achieve its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets, according to an environmental NGO.
The rules proposed last week by Environment Canada apply a performance standard to coal-fired units that are either new or have reached the end of their economic life.
The standard, which will affect 20 power plants, will require the power stations to achieve parity with the emissions performance of high-efficiency natural gas generation. The regulation is intended to encourage investment in cleaner generation technologies such as high-efficiency natural gas plants and renewable energy, as well as carbon capture and storage (CCS), according to the department.
These proposed regulations, in addition to other measures taken by federal and provincial governments and utilities to reduce emissions, are projected to result in a decline in the absolute level of GHG emissions from electricity generation by 31 million tonnes between 2005 and 2020, a reduction of about 26%.
“Our strategy to lower our emissions is based on making improvements sector by sector to sustain our economy and protect our environment,” said Environment Minister Peter Kent. “We are taking action in the electricity sector because we recognise the potential for significant emissions reductions.”
The federal government has set a target of reducing GHG emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 through a sector-by-sector approach aligned with the US. The government has also set a goal of generating 90% of Canada’s electricity from zero-emitting sources by 2020, with about three-quarters of the current supply emitting no GHGs.
“From a GHG point of view, it is a relatively clean system to begin with,” said Tim Weis, director of renewable energy and efficiency at the Pembina Institute.
But the new regulations will have the most immediate impact on the smaller coal-fired units (150MW or less) because they tend to be among the oldest of the 55 facilities in the country, while the larger coal plants tend to be younger and will not be affected for the next 15-20 years, he said. Under the regulations, about two-thirds of currently operating plants do not have to meet the standard until after 2020, and nine will operate past 2030 without constraint, Weis said.
“It’s a tough one in the sense that we’re definitely glad they’re doing something and coal is definitely a major problem,” he said. “At the same time, the regulations leave a pretty long grace period for the projects that are already out there.”
“If we’re going to meet our climate change targets, we need to be moving a fair bit faster than we are,” Weis added.
The proposals are on the stricter side of the range considered by the government, said Weis, but they are weaker than regulations in provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario, which has pledged to phase out its coal-fired generation by 2014.
The regulation states that the owner or the operator of a new unit or an old unit must not, on average, emit with an intensity of more than 375 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels in the unit for each GWh of electricity produced by the unit during a calendar year. But the owner or operator of a unit that reaches the end of its useful life before 2020 could ask for another unit to be substituted for the original unit. They could also apply for a temporary exemption if the new unit is designed, or the old unit can be retrofitted, to incorporate CCS technology.
Additionally, the regulations do not address how the federal government will treat new coal-fired plants built before 1 July 2015 – the date they are scheduled to go into effect – with a 500MW plant in Alberta trying to beat the start date. The regulation was silent on this issue despite a previous pledge to not allow developers to rush their projects into operation to avoid compliance.
“They didn’t do anything to try to stop that so that is one thing that’s very disappointing,” Weis said, adding that Kent could modify the regulations by applying them immediately to new plants.
The regulations will be officially published on 27 August for a 60-day public consultation period, with the final regulations to be published next year.
By. Gloria Gonzalez