05/25/2016 03:22 EDT | Updated 05/26/2017 05:12 EDT

Alberta's Grid Sets Record Highs For Wind And Record Lows For Coal

Todd Korol / Reuters
Windmills generate electricity in the windy rolling foothills of the Rocky Mountains near the town of Pincher Creek, Alberta, September 27, 2010. The non-polluting source of renewable energy is fed into the provincial electrical grid that powers Southern Alberta industries and residences. REUTERS/Todd Korol (CANADA - Tags: ENVIRONMENT BUSINESS ENERGY)

The Alberta government's plan to phase out coal and ramp up renewables is unequivocally a good thing. Costs for renewables have dropped sharply and coal just isn't worth it when you factor in the health and carbon costs.

This report, co-authored by the Asthma Society of Canada, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, The Lung Association (Alberta and Northwest Territories) and the Pembina Institute puts the health-care costs from Alberta's coal plants at $300 million annually.

Alberta accounts for close to 70 per cent of the health related impacts from burning coal for electricity generation nationwide. By phasing out coal, it is estimated that over the next 20 years:

  • 590 premature deaths could be avoided
  • 530 ER visits and hospitalization could be avoided
  • 80,000 asthma episodes could be avoided
  • And 1.9 million days of breathing difficulty and reduced activity could be avoided

Around the world investments in wind and solar are outpacing investments in coal and natural gas two to one. And when you look at a couple of recent records within Alberta's electricity system you can see where Alberta's electricity system is headed.

  • On April 9th, 2016 at 1 a.m. wind energy made up 22 per cent of Alberta's net electricity generation. A record high.
  • On May 8th, 2016 at 8 a.m. coal made up only 34 per cent of Alberta's net electricity generation. A record low.

Grant Arnold is the CEO of BluEarth Renewables, a Calgary based renewable energy developer.

"This is a sign of things to come and it's important to point out that isn't unique to Alberta. When you look at Texas and other places where there is a lot of wind energy they've successfully integrated them into the grid," says Arnold.

Angela Anderson is a spokesperson for the Alberta Electric System Operator. According to Anderson a lot of natural gas and wind energy has come online recently. The two biggest examples being the 300 MW Blackspring Ridge wind project in Vulcan County and the 800 MW natural gas fired Shepard Energy Centre both of which came online in the past two years.

"So we're already seeing the trend of wind and natural gas replacing coal," says Anderson.

And coal was on the downswing before the government's climate leadership plan was even announced. When you look at coal's share of electricity generation in Alberta over the past 10 years there's been a 13.5 per cent drop.


In 2019 another four units totaling 860 megawatts worth of coal fired generation capacity comes offline for good due to federal regulations. By 2029 another eight units will come offline due to those same federal regulations.

The process of replacing those old coal generators with renewables and natural gas projects starts soon. Over the next dozen years Alberta is looking at roughly $10-15 billion worth of investment just in renewables as the province phases out coal.

When you factor in the billions of dollars of investment and capital expenditures that are on their way and the health savings from phasing out coal it's a good thing we're seeing record highs for wind energy and record lows for coal energy already.

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