Alberta Doctors Praise Province's Decision To Phase Out Coal

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EDMONTON — Doctors lined up Monday to praise Alberta's decision to phase out coal-fired power, but companies that burn the coal to produce more than half the province's power were still in the dark about the plan's effects.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips appeared with officials from the Alberta Medical Association, the Alberta Lung Association, the Asthma Society of Canada and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

They all pointed to a study suggesting respiratory disease from burning coal costs provincial health care $300 million a year. Power plants are responsible for about one-third of all the sulphur dioxide released in Alberta, said Dr. Joe Vipond of Physicians for the Environment.

"As soon as plants close down, we have a commensurate decrease in some of these pollutants. By focusing on these plants, we can make a huge impact.''

But Phillips had few answers for industry. She wouldn't say if there will be money set aside for a settlement with companies who are losing profits because of an early shutdown. Talks have not begun, she said, but the government has been in touch with many of the companies involved.

"By focusing on these plants, we can make a huge impact.''

"We are negotiating an orderly phase out and transition of our electricity system in a way that is fair to the workers, fair to communities and fair to companies,'' she said. "In the coming days and weeks we'll have more to say about it.''

Capital Power, which owns at least part of four coal-fired plants, declined a request from The Canadian Press to discuss the changes.

"We will continue to assess today's policy announcements in detail,'' the company said in statement released Sunday.

"While the government's retirement schedule for coal generation is substantially more aggressive than that proposed by Capital Power, we're encouraged that the climate ... plan incorporates policy approaches that are consistent with our recommendations.''

Capital Power's plants have power purchase agreements with the government that end around 2030, when coal-fired plants are to be a thing of the past. It was expected, however, that those plants would be operating for much longer.

TransAlta, which has a stake in five plants, also declined an interview. Most of TransAlta's fleet was expected to retire well within the government's timeline.

"We're encouraged that the climate ... plan incorporates policy approaches that are consistent with our recommendations."

We'll be by the phone, said a Sunday release from TransAlta head Dawn Farrell.

"The premier has committed to an orderly transition that ensures system reliability and price stability for our customers ... and that the province's policies will not unnecessarily strand capital,'' she said.

"We are looking forward to working with the government-appointed negotiator to achieve these objectives over the next few months to ensure a fair outcome for our stakeholders.''

Even the industry association, the Independent Power Producers Society of Alberta, said it wouldn't be able to address the plan for a few days.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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