Canada issues final CO2 rules for new and old coal-fired plants

Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent announced Sept. 5 final regulations for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the country’s coal-fired power plants.

“Canada already boasts one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world, with three-quarters of our electricity supply emitting no greenhouse gases,” Kent said. “These regulations will further strengthen our position as a world leader in clean electricity production, while continuing to grow our economy and create jobs.”

The regulations, first proposed last year, apply a stringent performance standard to new electricity generation units and old units that have reached the end of their economic lives. In the first 21 years, the regulations are expected to result in a cumulative reduction in GHG emissions of about 214 megatonnes.  (A tonne is a metric ton). Reducing emissions from coal-fired electricity – which is responsible for 11% of Canada’s total GHG emissions – is a step toward meeting Canada’s 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005 levels.

These new regulations apply a strict performance standard of 420 tonnes of CO2 per GWh, which is the same standard as high-efficiency natural gas and renewable energy sources.

That makes the Canadian standard roughly similar to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal unveiled in March to limit CO2 from new coal-fired plants in the U.S. to the same level as a new gas-fired combined-cycle plant. The proposed EPA requirements would have new fossil fuel-fired electric units greater than 25 MWe meet an output-based standard of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per MWhr.

The new Canadian rules also define the useful life of a generating plant as those that have reached 50 years since starting to produce electricity commercially. However, as a transition measure:

  • Units that were commissioned before 1975 will reach their end-of-life after 50 years of operation or at the end of 2019, whichever comes earlier.
  • Units commissioned in or after 1975 but before 1986 will reach their end-of-life after 50 years of operation or at the end of 2029, whichever comes earlier.

Canada’s federal regulators work with provinces on side deals

“Our progress on coal-fired electricity exemplifies how the Government of Canada is working with our partners to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Kent said. “We have consulted extensively with both the provinces and industry and they have contributed to strengthening our approach. We have also recently announced that we are working with the Governments of Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan on an equivalency agreement to prevent duplicative coal-fired electricity regulations, and our Government is open to discussions with other provinces and territories.”

New and end-of-life units that incorporate technology for carbon capture and storage may apply for an exemption from the performance standard until 2025. New units are those which start producing electricity commercially on or after July 1, 2015. The performance standard also will come into force on July 1, 2015.

The first unit closures as a result of the regulations are expected to occur in 2020, said Environment Canada, which Kent heads. It is also expected that a number of units will close prior to this date in Ontario and Saskatchewan due to provincial actions and company plans. Ontario Power Generation, for example, is shutting down all of its coal capacity by the end of 2014 to reduce GHG emissions.

There would be large benefits from the use of carbon capture and storage technology in which captured CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery, Environment Canada noted. The regulations are also designed to complement the normal replacement of aging coal-fired electricity generating units, and contain flexibility provisions to ease transition and ensure the electricity supply will not be compromised in any region.

The Canada chapter of the Sierra Club immediately slammed the new rule, saying it would relax “already grossly-inadequate” emissions standards for coal plants.

“Coal burning power plants supply about 20% of Canada’s electricity but produce 77% of Canada’s GHG emissions from electricity generation. Shutting down coal plants would be the single most effective means of rapidly reducing emissions,” said Sierra Club Canada Executive Director John Bennett.

Sierra Club Canada said it is adamant that there are no technical or economic barriers to eliminating coal-fired electricity in Canada. Efficiency, conservation and existing renewable sources can meet the electricity needs of Canadians today, it added.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.