The news coming out of several countries in advance of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) casts an ominous pall over the future of the coal industry.
The End of Coal Generation in Alberta
Fresh on the heels of last week’s announcement by UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd that she plans to close all coal-fired power plants in the UK by 2025 that do not include carbon capture, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced on Nov. 22 a Climate Leadership Plan for her province. The plan accelerates the transition from coal to renewable electricity sources, puts a price on carbon pollution for everyone, and sets emissions limits for the Alberta oil sands.
“This is the day we step up at long last to one of the world’s biggest problems—the pollution that is causing climate change. This is the day we stop denying there is an issue. And this is the day we do our part,” Notley said.
The plan is based on advice from the Climate Change Advisory Panel, led by Dr. Andrew Leach, which heard from thousands of individual Albertans and stakeholder groups this fall. Three principles are expected to shape the coal phase-out: maintaining reliability, providing reasonable price stability for consumers and businesses, and ensuring that capital is not unnecessarily stranded.
The plan calls for coal to be phased out by 2030, with renewable energy and natural gas generation taking its place. Two-thirds of coal-generated electricity is to be replaced by renewable sources—primarily wind power—while natural gas generation is relied upon to provide baseload power. As envisioned, renewable energy sources would provide up to 30% of Alberta’s electricity production by 2030.
Alberta will begin pricing carbon under the plan in an effort to reduce additional greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution. In January 2017, the price will start at $20/metric ton (mt) economy-wide, increasing to $30/mt a year later. The plan also sets an overall oil sands emission limit of 100 megatonnes, with provisions for upgrades and cogeneration, and a methane reduction strategy is included with a goal to reduce methane emissions by 45% from 2014 levels by 2025.
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) November 22, 2015
Scholars Call for Coal Plant Closings in the Netherlands
In an open letter to parliament in the Netherlands, 64 professors asked politicians to close all 11 operating coal-fired power plants in the country, including three recently commissioned facilities. The letter—published by the newspaper Trouw—suggested that closing the plants would be the most effective method of reducing GHG emissions and that the Netherlands already has the capacity in place to do so immediately.
The letter noted that the European Environment Agency located in Copenhagen, Denmark, considers the Netherlands the worst performing country in Europe in terms of climate and energy. The scholars suggested that closing the nation’s coal plants would send an important signal in advance of COP21.
The authors acknowledged that electricity prices would likely increase as a result of the closings, but they calculated that the cost would only be about €10 extra per year for each household.
The letter referred to Germany’s recent decision to close eight large lignite-fired plants, Britain’s plan to close all unabated coal plants by 2025, and the closings of more than 200 plants in the U.S. since 2010 as proof that coal is on the decline worldwide.
“The end of the coal era is inevitable,” it said.
Fossil-Free Plans in Sweden
Many expect that one of the major questions to be discussed at the upcoming COP21 is whether it is possible for nations to decouple growth and emissions, that is, grow their economies while at the same time reducing GHG emissions. Kristina Persson, Sweden’s minister for strategic development and Nordic cooperation, believes decoupling is not only possible, but also a must for all countries.
Since the mid-1990s, Sweden has managed to decouple economic growth and GHG emissions. In 2013, Sweden’s GHG emissions totaled 55.8 million mt of carbon dioxide equivalents, compared with 71.8 million mt in 1990—a 22% reduction. Meanwhile, Sweden’s gross domestic product grew 58% during this period. By 2030, Sweden plans to become a fossil-free country and, if successful, it will be one of the world’s first fossil-free nations.
“We need to do much more than what we are doing presently… and many more countries must try to achieve what we are trying to achieve, to become a fossil-free country. It will be difficult, but possible,” Persson said.
It may be hard to imagine not only a power industry without coal or gas, but also a vehicle fleet completely rid of fossil fuels. However, that is what Sweden hopes and expects to achieve by 2030.
—Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)