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Moving from Coal-Fired Electricity Towards a Healthier and Happier Canada

Aligned with the efforts of the Canadian government to phase out coal-fired electricity in the country by 2030, 5.6 million dollars will be invested in Alberta so that the province can shift to having a greener economy. The government will implement eight different projects with this budget in order to support the goal. Workers in the industry and the affected communities will receive the necessary support in this transition away from coal electricity. 

The phase out of coal-fired electricity will have ramifications for industry workers as well. However, the government will create opportunities for people in Alberta so that they can redirect their skills into new sectors and businesses. Despite the change in industry, the resiliency of the local economy will not be sacrificed. Rather, it will be strengthened by investing in the workforce and businesses. Economic development research will also be conducted so that the province can diversify its economic opportunities.

The Community Futures Network of Alberta (CFNA) will also receive 200,000 dollars so that they can provide the necessary aid to those who will need loans and funds for businesses. Similarly, 87,500 dollars will be given to the United Steelworkers Local 1595 so that they can absorb employees who have lost their jobs in the phase out of coal electricity in Alberta and Saskatchewan. These institutions will help the workers in the industry cope with the changes that will take place and avoid their possible financial consequences. 

Coal-Fired Electricity Started in the 19th Century

Power Plants in Their Early Days

The use of coal to produce electricity started in the 19th century. At that time, it proved to be beneficial for the economic and social advancement of countries. It allowed the development of various technologies, improved living conditions, and promoted growth across different sectors. However, over the past decades, it has become clear that the production of electricity by burning coal has more negative implications for the environment and the well-being of societies.

Canada’s Utilization of Coal-Fired Electricity 

In Canada, the use of coal-fired electricity has been beneficial for provinces that do not have the capacity to utilize hydroelectric power. However, uncovering its hidden costs shows that the use of coal-fired electricity is not as cheap as it seems. The pollution that it produces puts communities at risk for diseases and environmental catastrophes. 

The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia have 34 coal power units in total. These coal power units serve as the main source of electricity in the aforementioned provinces. Alberta has 65% and Saskatchewan has 16% of the country’s total coal capacity. 

In 2014, relevant institutions conducted a study to evaluate the emissions of coal plants in the country. 10 out of the top 17 sources of sulphur dioxide in Canada were identified as coal plants. The total number of coal plants also contributed to 23% of the sulphur dioxide emissions in the country. Similarly, 10 out of the top 14 sources of nitrogen oxides were also coal plants. In Alberta, 40% of the sulphur dioxide emissions from the province were due to the coal plants located there.

It was also determined that 32 of the 34 coal-fired units in the country were established before 2000. As such, the technology they are utilizing is not designed to produce less pollution. This is compared to the Genesee 3 and Keephills 3, which are more updated coal units that have the features to reduce sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. 

Why is the Phase Out of Coal-Fired Electricity Necessary? 

The use of coal for power generation produces greenhouse gases and various air contaminants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter, mercury, and ground-level ozone. These contaminants, individually and collectively, produce various health consequences. They put the lives of individuals at risk and dampen their productivity.

Exposure of workers and citizens to sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides has been associated with the development of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and premature deaths. Sulphur dioxide is dangerous for everyone. However, such risks are heightened for children, the elderly, and those with asthma. Long term exposure to sulphur dioxide can also cause problems with pregnancy, leading to congenital heart defects and preterm birth. Together, both sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide interact with other atmospheric elements that result in the creation of particulate matter 2.5. 

Furthermore, fine particulate matter is also directly produced by coal plants. Areas that have operating coal plants record high levels of fine particulate matter. Being exposed to such particulate matter over a long period of time results in increased rates of ischemic heart disease, abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, and cardiac arrest. More studies are also showing that it can affect birth outcomes, contribute to respiratory diseases in young age groups, cause cognitive disorders, and promote the development of diabetes.

Coal-fired power also produces mercury. In Alberta, 37% of the mercury emissions in the province is due to coal-fired power. Exposure to mercury, either directly or as it finds its way into the food that people eat, causes cognitive disabilities and delayed motor development. 

Lastly, greenhouse gas emissions also come from coal-fired power plants. This has contributed to the worsening of climate change over the years. The degradation of the condition of the environment has been affecting the health and living conditions of nations. Natural disasters are more frequently occurring, and the environmental situation has become less conducive to agriculture and other activities needed to sustain life.

There are More Benefits to be obtained from the Phase Out of Coal-Fired Electricity

The Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) created by Environment Canada aimed to determine the benefits of regulating coal plants in the country. At that time, the implementation of policies to gradually reduce the utilization of coal plants was expected to result in a decrease of 298,000 GWh in electricity produced by coal plants. With this decrease, there will be a similar lessening of particulate matter and ozone. Such efforts are also expected to prevent 900 premature deaths.

Alberta and Saskatchewan will benefit the most in terms of health advantages due to the phasing out of coal electricity. As much as 90% of the expected health impacts to be avoided will be experienced by the aforementioned provinces between 2015 and 2035. Avoided health problems include premature deaths, visits to the emergency room, hospitalizations, exacerbation of asthma episodes, difficulty breathing, and decreased activity.

Nearby provinces will also benefit from the phase out of coal electricity. This is because fewer pollutants will travel through the air and reach them. Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba will also avoid the health consequences mentioned above.

The release of mercury is also expected to decrease by 6,686 kg. This decrease will mostly occur in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia. As a result, 26 million dollars’ worth of health benefits will be experienced. This only involves the prevention of neurodevelopmental delays. Other conditions, such as heart disease and premature death, are not included because the causality of mercury with regard to these diseases has not been established. Because of this, the computed health benefits can actually be more than what was determined. 

The financial investment by the government seems to be smaller compared to the potential benefits that provinces can enjoy as they shift to a greener economy. It will require continued support from the government and its citizens to make such a big shift in their lifestyle. This change will be met with numerous advantages that will eventually contribute to a healthier and more productive society.

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