Permit to Pollute: Dodging New Law, Agency Approves Alberta Coal Plant

Thu, 2011-08-11 14:24Emma Pullman
Emma Pullman's picture

Permit to Pollute: Dodging New Law, Agency Approves Alberta Coal Plant

In Alberta, coal was first mined near Edmonton as early as 1850, and commercial coal operations took off in 1874. After the coal rush where hundreds of mines popped up across the province, the “black rock that burns” fell out of favour by the mid 1950s with the advent of natural gas.

While no new coal plants have been approved in Alberta in over a decade, it seems history is repeating itself. On June 30th, the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) approved the Milner Expansion Project, a 500Mw coal-fired generating facility to be built west of Edmonton. The final decision by the AUC to approve the coal plant is a serious black eye for the AUC and its ability to protect the public interest.

The project gives Calgary-based Maxim Power Corp. license to produce some of the filthiest power on the planet for 45 years while emitting 3Mt per year of greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta’s filthy tar sands are already the scourge of the planet, and this approval adds insult to injury.

in May, the Canadian government committed to reducing carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The Canadian government will begin by regulating greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity, and will follow with tar sands regulation later this year. 

Luckily for Maxim Power Corp, they got in just in the knick of time. The Pembina Institute argues that the Alberta Utilities Commission deliberately rushed the approval of the plant to help the company avoid the new rules. On June 7, 2011, Maxim requested that the AUC approve the plant no later than June 30th, 2011 in order to qualify as an Existing Plant under new federal legislation. This is because all power plants completed after July 1, 2015, will have to comply with new regulations, and plants completed before will be ‘grandfathered’. 

A letter from Maxim’s lawyers to the AUC spells this all out explicitly:

Maxim has consulted with the Minister on this new legislation and understands that the Milner expansion will be considered an Existing Plant if it is commissioned by July 1, 2015. As a result of the anticipated financing, construction and commissioning timeframes, Maxim requires an approval from the AUC as soon as possible and no later than June 30th, 2011 in order to qualify as an Existing Plant under this new federal legislation. Maxim has no chance to complete the power plant expansion by July 1, 2015, unless it receives an approval from the AUC by June 30, 2011. Any regulatory delay, even from today’s date, in issuing an AUC approval magnifies the risk of irreparable harm to Maxim. Maxim’s plant is accommodated by the pending federal legislation

Canadian Minister of the Environment Peter Kent explicitly committed to not allowing plants to be rushed through before the legislation came into effect. And yet that’s exactly what happened. Before the new rules have even come into force, they have effectively been subverted. 

In addition to evading federal regulations, the Millner facility will essentially cancel out Alberta’s entire commitments to reduce GHG emissions. In its Climate Change Strategy, Alberta committed to “stabilize GHG emissions by 2020”, and as a part of the initiative, will spend $2 billion on CCS projects to reduce GHG’s by 4Mt/yr. This project will pump 3Mt/year of those savings back into the atmosphere. 

According to Pembina, Alberta does not need the power for its domestic use if they invest smartly in renewables and conservation. What does Alberta need 500 megawatts of power for 45 years for? One possible explanation is for tar sands expansion. 

The Alberta Utility Commission’s mandate is to ensure that, “(Alberta’s) regulatory system is effective, responsive to concerns raised by directly affected landowners and interested third-parties, and promotes responsible development in the best interests of the public.”

Maxim’s permit is not in the interest of the public, and failed to respond to public concerns. The AUC unilaterally determined that no parties had reason to intervene in a hearing, and determined that the project was in the public interest without demonstrating that they had adequately completed their review of the evidence. According to environmental economist Andrew Leach, they also shut down at least one interested third party in the process.  

Mark Jaccard, professor of sustainable energy and Simon Fraser University argues that Stephen Harper cannot achieve his promise to reduce GHGs by 17 percent by 2020 and allow this new coal-fired electricity plant to be built. Why then are we keeping Alberta and the planet in the stone-age of environmental policy by approving it, and undermining public confidence in government and the regulatory system in the process?

Mark Jaccard ends his piece with a provocative question to the reader. He asks, “What do you do when your government knowingly permits investments that prevent it from meeting its promises? Do you simply stand by and watch the construction of a coal plant that contributes great harm to the planet? Or is the only remaining ethical option to use every legal avenue and perhaps even peaceful civil disobedience to try to stop the plant?”

The answer is clear. 

Comments

"Alberta committed to "stabilize GHG emissions by 2020""

Ha!

governments love statements like that - totally meaningless and just far enough in the future to allow the luxury of doing nothing.

In that spirit I would also like to make a personal and firm commitment to do what I reasonably can to contribute to sustainability in this world. By 2020 I intend to be fully immersed, in fact stabilized in my personal commitment to give back what I reasonably can and to promote healthy local environmental practice - where possible.

I commit to help plants by producing as much enriching CO2 as I can.
This will assist in food production and maybe help just a tiny bit to stave off the imminent cooling period.

I also commit to purchase nothing but Ethical Oil products from Alberta Famous and well respected Oil Sands projects.

Thank goodness that sanity is finally returning to planet earth and belief in the mythical CAGW is nearly over.

"The final decision by the AUC to approve the coal plant is a serious black eye for the AUC and its ability to protect the public interest."

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As an Edmontonian, I believe part of the AUC's mandate to protect the public interest is to ensure we have access to affordable energy.

And that is what they've done.

Frankly, I could give a toss about "greenhouse gases", or whatever the latest enviro-hypochondriac's neurotic obsession is.

"Frankly, I could give a toss about "greenhouse gases", or whatever the latest enviro-hypochondriac's neurotic obsession is."
_____________

May I suggest that you could give a toss because you are spectacularly ignorant of which you speak, and that you are just another garden variety troll who is not interested in actually learning anything. It is much easier just to make stuff up rather than sit down and read something.

"I commit to help plants by producing as much enriching CO2 as I can.
This will assist in food production and maybe help just a tiny bit to stave off the imminent cooling period." AND "belief in the mythical CAGW is nearly over."

So how does a human-induced mythical warming help stave off an imminent cooling period? You, too, are abysmally ignorant and are just making sh** up. Congrat on knowing CO2 is plant food though--the more food you take in, the better it is, right? And also congrats on knowing we have an imminent cooling period--we should see that in about 50,000 years or so. Go shopping now to get winter gear...or instead spend that time trying to learn a bit of actual science. Start with skepticalscience.com (hint: look up CO2 is plant food).

DeSmogBlog--may I suggest you put up a trash bin akin to the Bore Hole that RC has. All comments that are just BC or recycled long-debunked denier fallacies can go into that SmogBin. That allows people to intelligently discuss actual science and policy in the comment sections of an article while those whose sole purpose seems to be trolling message boards to spout nonsense are ignored till they manage to come up with something relevant.

So now that we have the Spencer study and the 2009 Cho and Lindzen papers all showing the earth is releasing allot more heat then the climate models have shown, so why should we care anymore the climate models are not accurate the premise they are based on (C02 is the main driver of climate) is wrong.

Hee-hee! Listen to the thin-skinned lefty shrieking in favour of censorship the minute anyone dares to disagree with him.

What a putz.

"May I suggest that you could give a toss because you are spectacularly ignorant of which you speak, and that you are just another garden variety troll who is not interested in actually learning anything."
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Yes, I suppose there is a possibility that I am "spectacularly ignorant". However, there is another possibility, and that is that you might be completely mislead and that your beliefs are based on exaggerations and misinformation.

"It is much easier just to make stuff up rather than sit down and read something."
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Oh, you mean like reading a propaganda website run by James Hoggan & Associates Public Relations Inc.?

Would I be less "spectacularly ignorant" if I spent more time reading PR company material, like you?

Dan; recycled long-debunked denier fallacies?

Be careful what you wish for.
Most of what is posted on Desmog is Long-debunked reality denier fallacies.

Like the myth that mand made co2 drives climate.

You really should read something other than cult dogma.

The investment into alternative power generating technologies such as nuclear energy may need to be measured against the potential cost when things turn against you as unfortunately happened this year in Japan. The use of thermal coal (steam coal) that is mostly burnt for power generation may be valid for other countries who may not be able to allocate resources and funds to alternative and more greener sources of power. Coal newsletters and coal statistics show developing economies are more likely to increase their investment into & their use of thermal coal & metallurgical coal in coming years because of coal's affordability and ability to quickly meet increasing demands for electricity and steel. Cherry of www.coalportal.com

When alternative power generating technologies can stand on their own merrits with needing propaganda and fearmongering to support them, they will emerge.

[x]

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas...

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