Hicks on Biz: The cost of killing coal in Alberta BY GRAHAM HICKS FIRST POSTED EDMONTON SUN: THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2016
Sure, Alberta can transition from coal-fired electricity to renewables – wind farms, water power (hydro) and solar farms.
Sure, if we’re willing to pay two to four times more for power than is now the case.
The best, least-cost solutions to lower air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Alberta are all about natural gas, not renewables.
The provincial government has decreed all coal-burning plants in Alberta must be shut down by 2030. Half that power, 4,200 MW, must be replaced by renewables – at this point, meaning wind farms.
There’s so much here that doesn’t make sense either economically or environmentally.
Shutting down older coal-burning plants makes sense. They do pollute. Three of them have effectively finished their life-cycle and will come off-line, as per federal government environment regulations, by 2019.
Shutting down our newest coal-burning plants by 2030 does not make sense. They are designed to last much longer. Built with stringent pollution and GHG controls, their emissions are well within existing, strict federal standards.
Replacing the old, soon-to-shut-down coal plants with new natural gas fired units makes sense. Natural gas is cheap like borscht and in such supply that it will stay cheap for decades to come. Clean-burning natural gas meets every environmental standard we have, and will continue, with new emission-lowering technologies, to deliver clean, cheap, reliable power.
Insisting half our post-coal energy production must come from renewables makes no sense whatsoever. Wind farms are expensive to build, expensive to hook into the electricity grid — a grid designed in any case to carry power from today’s big coal and natural gas generating plants to our cities and industrial parks.
Renewables are feast or famine. Either there’s no power when there’s no wind, or there’s too much power when the wind blows down those valleys where almost all the current wind farms are located. Electricity storage technologies will one day change the cost equation, but nothing has yet shown up.
Since wind is not reliable, gas-fired plants still have to be built as back-up.
In a province rich in natural gas, wind or large-scale solar power is most expensive. For a wind farm to be profitable, operators need two-to-four-times more revenue per megawatt hour than natural gas. That money could come from carbon off-sets (selling carbon “credits”), but most of it will come from government or consumer subsidy. In electricity generation circles, it’s being suggested the Notley government will subsidize renewable energy through the upcoming carbon tax.
In summation: Alberta can easily meet its carbon-reduction and environmental goals by transitioning from coal-powered to natural gas-fired power plants. We do not need ultra-expensive, large-scale renewables to meet those goals.
A reader recently chided me: “Having lived in Europe and being familiar with developments in places like Germany and Scandinavia,” she wrote, “it’s clear that our province is well behind the times.”
Behind the times?
Since when does producing cheap, clean, low-emission electricity from natural gas mean we are “behind the times”? Since when does using our own resources — natural gas and all that economic activity that comes from extracting and processing that resource — mean we are “behind the times?”
How does such political correctness defy the evidence in front of our noses? Moving to natural gas is central to the global carbon clean-up equation!
Let the European countries lay claim to being (high-cost) renewables experts. Let Alberta be known globally for its expertise in producing and using inexpensive, low-emission fossil fuels.
We can best save the world, not by switching to renewables, but by bringing our expertise in low-emission fossil fuels to China – which produces more GHG emissions in one day than will oilsands’ growth over the next 25 years.