Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus. blog comments powered by Disqus

Alberta leads Canada in Fight Against Global Warming

Province has country’s highest proportion of air-cooling, coal-fired power stations; but new federal rules endanger Alberta’s green good works

While everybody knows that coal-fired power stations emit far more CO2 than their natural-gas fired equivalents, what hasn’t been widely understood until recently is that the aerosols (often pejoratively called 'smog') produced by clunky old coal plants reflect sunlight, acting as a ‘negative forcing’ on climate. In Alberta, we are proud to obtain over 70% of our electricity from coal, overwhelmingly from old plants that, while they might spit out loads of CO2, also produce wonderful quantities of nice cooling aerosols, thereby fulfilling our earnest desire to do our bit in the fight against global warming.

By contrast, those dirty easterners in Ontario have been turning their backs on coal and have in recent years been increasing their generation from hydro and natural gas. That this will lead directly to enhanced global warming has been demonstrated by newly-published research by the NCAR’s Tom Wigley. Using a climate model, Wigley examined the effects of replacing half of current coal generation by natural gas and found that even assuming realistic (i.e. small) values for leakage of methane during gas production, eliminating the beneficial effects of coal-sourced aerosols would lead to an increase in warming over the next several decades before the ultimate effects of reduced CO2 emissions begin to kick in. This result has, predictably, delighted the coal lobby’s anti-gas PR machine (who evidently thinks that “burning natural gas produces methane” – WTF?).

This is obviously very significant in the light of the federal government’s new programme to eliminate old coal-fired plants and require new ones to meet much stricter emissions standards. This dirty Conservative trick (here we must contrast the federal Conservatives with our nice clean pro-coal provincial Progressive Conservatives) will not only impose unfair and expensive Hayekist regulations on our hard-working coal-based utilities, it will undermine Alberta’s currently very effective fight against global warming. From a Prime Minister who’s from Calgary, frankly we expected much better.

To be fair to the gas producers, we should probably point out that Wigley’s modeling doesn’t incorporate the almost certain increase in ‘cleanliness’ (i.e., reduced smog) of future coal generation (even in Asia), or the effects of any carbon-capture programs associated with new natural gas generation, but estimating reasonable ranges of either is difficult enough that we expect unsophisticated commentators will completely ignore them (as already documented here).