Review of Australia’s Electricity future seeks political compromise; unions see some hints of Just Transition

Flag_of_Australia.svgThe Final Report of the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market  was submitted to the Australian government  by  its Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, on June 9 – the government press release is here  . Given that Australia currently obtains approximately two-thirds of its electricity from coal-fired generating units, it is controversial territory.  The Finkel Review seeks compromise ground: it doesn’t  recommend a return to Australia’s previous emissions trading scheme , nor a carbon tax – instead,  it recommends a “clean energy target”, where cleaner power generators would get financial rewards relative to the amount of CO2 emitted per megawatt hour.   In “Australia: New climate policy same old politics”, Climate Home states:  A “major review of Australian climate policy has been compromised by the malignant politics that has sent Australia to the back of the international pack”.  Even more critical is  “Alan Finkel’s emissions target breaks Australia’s Paris commitments”     in The Guardian (June 9), which states that the Finkel recommendations would result in emissions levels 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 for the electricity sector – less than needed, and less than called for in a 2016 report by the Climate Change Authority,  Policy options for Australia’s electricity supply sectorThe Guardian also published “Finkel review anticipates lower power prices, but weak electricity emissions target“, with detail of the recommendations and the political response.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) response to the Finkel report is muted, and focused less on the strength of the emission targets and more on the recommendations for an orderly transition of the sector, and a three year notice period before generator withdrawal. From the ACTU press release: “it is immediately clear that the report states the need for an orderly transition that includes workforce preparedness….The report also recommends a three year notice period before generator withdrawal, which would provide some notice for workers and communities.”  The ACTU has previously recommended the establishment of the Energy Transition Authority to navigate the transition to a clean energy economy.

 

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.

Jobs in Canada’s Hydroelectric Industry

A May report by Prism Economics estimates that the hydroelectric sector contributed nearly US$31 billion to the country’s gross domestic product. Hydropower and the Canadian Economy: Jobs and Investment in Canada’s Largest Electricity Source also states that in 2013, “Canada’s hydropower industry’s investment and operations expenditures sustained an estimated 57,800 jobs (FTE) in Canada. When inter-industry purchases are factored in, the number of jobs rises to 100,000 jobs. In total, the investment and operations expenditures made by Canada’s hydroelectric power sector support over 135,400 (FTE) direct, indirect and induced jobs across Canada.”

Mapping Clean Energy in British Columbia

In April, the Pembina Institute launched a new, interactive Clean Energy Map  which quantifies the number of jobs in the clean energy sector in British Columbia, and maps where renewable energy projects are located. To date, it displays the electricity sector, where 14,100 jobs have been tallied; forthcoming updates will include jobs associated with energy efficiency, green buildings and clean transportation technologies and services.   The project is funded by B.C. Government and Services Employees’ Union, City of Vancouver, Green Jobs BC, North Growth Foundation, Pembina Foundation and TIDES Canada . A text description of the project is available here.