It may be the industrial heartland of Canada, but Ontario took a major step forward this week by announcing all its coal fired generating plants would shut down, while in ‘super natural” BC the province is preparing to increase its coal mining and shipments.
On Thursday, the Ontario government announced it is taking the final steps to reach its goal to close all provincial coal burning facilities, including the Nanticoke Generating Station – the largest coal-fired electrical generating plant in North America. And the government has announced a permanent ban on all coal-fired electricity from the province, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to do so.
When burned, coal is one of the greatest generators of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change.
“Our work on eliminating coal and investing in renewables is the strongest action being taken in North America to fight climate change,” says Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne. “I believe we can work together as stewards of our natural environment and protect our children, our grandchildren and our fellow citizens.”
Ontario once generated 25 percent of its electrical needs from 19 coal-fired units that will all be closed by the end of December. In its place, Ontario has been aggressively building and supporting renewable energy projects for the past four years, including wind, solar, natural gas and other energy projects that have created an estimated 31,000 new jobs in a growing energy sector.
“It is heartening to see the tremendous progress that has been made here and it is my hope that others will quickly follow suit,” said former US vice president and Climate Reality Project leader Al Gore in Toronto Thursday.
In British Columbia, coal is rarely used to generate electricity. BC Hydro relies on coal only when it needs to import energy, usually from Alberta, during peak demand periods. Electricity in BC is generated by hydroelectric dams including the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and others around the province. But despite this non-reliance on coal as energy, BC is still emerging as a global leader in the world demand for coal and coal has become a dominant industry within the province.
“We’ve been mining coal in this province for the past 100 years,” says Alan Fryer, spokesperson for the Coal Alliance in BC which represents mining, shipping and railway companies. “We’ve been shipping from mine sites to terminals to overseas safely and sustainably for years. This is an important part of the province’s economy.”
In 2011, the BC coal industry generated $3.2 billion to the provincial GDP and added $715 million in tax revenue. More than 26,000 people work directly or indirectly in the BC coal industry making an average wage of $95,000 according to the industry’s Price Waterhouse Cooper economic impact study in 2011. Ten mines operate in BC and several more are in the planning process.
In Vancouver, where Mayor Gregor Robertson hopes to create the Greenest City in the World by 2020, two coal terminal expansion plans are taking place just outside the city borders. In North Vancouver, Neptune Terminals is expanding its facility to accommodate more coal shipments. And along the Fraser River, Port Metro Vancouver is considering a contentious application to approve a new coal handling and offloading facility at the Fraser Surrey Docks.
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