The true cost of “cheap” coal


March 26, 2013

The Green Party of Alberta calls on the provincial government to retire coal-burning electricity plants as quickly as possible to save the health of Albertans and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A report issued today – by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Asthma Institute Society of Canada , the Lung Association (AB and NWT) and the Pembina Institute – documents the health and environmental costs of producing electricity in Alberta by burning coal. When these costs are added to the price Albertans currently pay (in 2012 this was 6.6 cents/kWh), we discover that the “true cost of electricity from coal” is between 10.2 and 20.3 cents/kWh. Albertans are paying a very high cost indeed for their supposedly “cheap” power. As the report states, “Albertans are subsidizing coal with their health.”

The problem is unique to this province as Alberta burns more coal to produce electricity than all other nine provinces combined. In 2012, 64% of the electricity produced in Alberta was generated through the combustion of coal.

Diseases caused or exacerbated by emissions from coal generation of power include asthma and emphysema. Heavy metals, such as mercury, in the emissions can cause neurological disorders and lower the intelligence of young children whose brains are still developing. Other conditions such as diabetes are exacerbated by the emissions from coal power plants.

And Alberta’s coal fired electricity generation accounts for nearly the same volume of greenhouse gases as are produced by the oil sands.

Common sense requires that we take immediate measures to reduce this pollution. Instead, even though these hazards have been well-known for a long time, as the report notes, generation of electricity from coal actually increased 14 % over the period 2006 to 2012 in Alberta. Further, our federal government has made matters worse by extending the lives of Alberta’s coal-fired power plants for up to 10 years beyond the lifespans advised by the Clean Air Strategic Alliance.

These policies are dangerous and unnecessary. Reducing energy demand through energy conservation is the quickest and cheapest way to reduce the pollution from burning coal. In Alberta solar, wind and geothermal power hold great and largely untapped potential. And while it is also a fossil fuel and thus a source of greenhouse gas emissions, natural gas is significantly cleaner than coal.

The Green Party of Alberta urges Albertans to contact the Premier, their MLA and the Environment and Energy Ministers to demand they protect the health of Albertans and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by setting an aggressive timeline for the earliest possible closure of all coal-fired power plants in the province and developing a clean energy plan for the province.



Janet Keeping, Leader, Green Party of Alberta
403-283-8085; 403-383-1356

Roger Gagne, Energy Critic, Green Party of Alberta