Friday, September 02, 2016

Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia resist the call of progress

Saskatchewan in particular, under the thumb of dinosaur-in-chief Brad Wall, is now by far the most regressive province in the country, and Mr. Wall sets himself up in opposition to pretty much any progressive initiative the feds might propose, almost as a knee-jerk reaction. He is blustering about bringing court challenges should the federal government have the audacity to impose carbon taxes on his province. I don't know to what extent Wall really represents the views of his province these days, but the fact that he is still there - he has been in power since 2007, and his rightist Saskatchewan Party won their third majority government just this year, so clearly he will be there for a while! - suggests that the majority of the province is just as dinosaurian as he. Which is a scary thought.
Most of Canada's coal production actually comes from British Columbia and Alberta, which have relatively progressive views on climate change and electricity generation these days (although they continue to produce and export coal in large quantities), followed by Saskatchewan. The Atlantic provinces produce relatively little coal today, although historically Maritime coal was much more important, and a coal tradition is deeply entrenched there. About half of Canada's coal production is exported for iron and steel smelting purposes ("coking coal"); the other half is used domestically, mainly for electricity generation ("thermal coal").
Currently, around 44% of Saskatchewan's electricity comes from coal, and 60% of Nova Scotia's and 13% of New Brunswick's. Alberta still relies on coal for about 55% of its electricity production, although it has plans to phase coal use out completely over the next 14 years. BC - like Ontario, Quebec and most other provinces - has already phased out its coal-fired power stations. Canada-wide, only 20% of our electricity generation is now powered by coal (this compares with over 40% in the USA)
The dissenting provinces claim that the federal plan to bring forward the complete phasing out of coal will leave them with worthless technology and drive up electricity prices. New Brunswick Power has plucked a figure of a 38% price increase from somewhere, although most reports suggest that wind power is more than competitive with coal these days. Credit where credit is due, all three provinces are doing something about cutting their carbon emissions, although Mr. Wall is relatively unapologetic and maintains that coal will remain an important part of Saskatchewan's electricity production mix, at least until 2040.
I have little patience with the arguments used, and even less with the attitudes of people like Brad Wall. Like it or not, coal is a moribund industry, and there are many compelling arguments as to why it should be discontinued. The Canadian government has poured subsidies into the coal industry for years, a practice which the current Liberal government has vowed to stop, so that coal will become even less price-competitive. If some coal reserves have to stay in the ground, that is fine by me (much the same can be said for products like asbestos). In the meantime, coal production should be actively discouraged, and investment encouraged instead into 21st century industries like renewable energy and clean tech.
Bluster all you like, Mr. Wall, the world is moving on, and we have to move with it.

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