Anti-coal health groups take out ad on solar-powered digital billboard

A solar-powered billboard in Edmonton, where an ad highlighting the dangers of coal-fired power is displayed. December 12, 2014.
A solar-powered billboard in Edmonton, where an ad highlighting the dangers of coal-fired power is displayed. December 12, 2014. Global News

EDMONTON – If you’re driving down Calgary Trail, you might notice a new campaign pushing for Alberta to phase out coal-fueled power plants.  The ad near 63 Ave. shows smokestacks and says, “Doctors know coal kills.

Three health groups — The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Asthma Society of Canada, and the Lung Association (Alberta &NWT) — launched the campaign to highlight the dangers of coal-fired power.

“The video screen on which it appears is 100 per cent solar powered. And from what we understand, it’s Canada’s first, what they call green screen 100 per cent solar-powered screen,” said Gideon Forman, CAPE Executive Director.

“We’re very big supporters of renewable energy because of the obvious health effects, the health benefits.

“We’re trying to show that, ‘you know what, you don’t have to burn coal to produce electricity for a range of things,’ including the billboard we’re using for our campaign,” he added.

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Forman said burning coal leads to health problems such as asthma. “The science shows that about 100 Albertans die each year from air pollution produced by coal-fired plants.”

READ MORE: Report shows health and climate impacts from coal power cost Alberta millions

Besides being solar-powered, the billboard was also chosen in hopes of catching the attention of Alberta government officials in Edmonton. The group has talked to politicians from all Alberta parties. Forman said opposition members support phasing out coal, but the government is more cautious.

“I think there’s some receptivity in Premier Prentice’s cabinet to the idea of reducing reliance on coal, but they certainly haven’t agreed to a 10-year phase out, which we think is reasonable,” said Forman, who added he feels there’s more openness with Premier Prentice than with some of his predecessors.

So why 10 years? Forman said that’s what Ontario did when it phased out coal power plants. Earlier this year the province shut down its last coal-fired power plant, making it the first jurisdiction in North America to fully eliminate coal as a source of electricity generation.

“Ontario, at its peak, had as much coal use as Alberta has right now. So we think the 10-year timeline is fair to make the transition, and reasonable, and result in a lot of health benefits.”

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The group feels Albertans would be open to new sources of energy, and points to a survey of Albertans done earlier this year by Oracle Poll Research. It showed 80 per cent of respondents supported wind energy being used to reduce coal-fired electricity in the province.

“Replacing coal with wind and solar power would be very good for people’s health,” said Leigh Allard, CEO of the Alberta chapter of the Lung Association. “So it’s not surprising that Albertans are so supportive of renewables.”