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Alberta coal phase-out won’t make a difference to health & environment: Fraser Institute

Steam billows from the Sheerness coal fired generating station near Hanna, Alta., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Phasing out coal power will do little to alleviate the burden on our environment and our healthcare system, suggests a new study by conservative think tank Fraser Institute.

Joining News Talk 770’s Rob Breakenridge on Tuesday, Ken Green, an environmental scientist and senior director of natural resource studies at the Fraser Institute, said the concept of ‘dirty coal’ is out of date.

“The technologies to burn coal pretty much cleanly have existed for 20 years,” Green said.

“Scrubbers and electrostatic precipitators, and things like that, have really taken the ‘dirty’ out of dirty coal.”

READ MORE: Phasing out coal: good for the environment, bad for your wallet

The Fraser Institute studied the impact of the coal-phase out in Ontario. Green said the province would have seen the same reductions in air pollution had they retrofitted existing coal plants and increased environmental protections – but at a 10th of the cost.

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READ MORE: ‘We’re going to lose 200 full-time, well-paying jobs’: impact of coal phase-out on Hanna, Alta

Green said the study didn’t examine C02 emissions because that was not the rationale for closing plants in Ontario and that it is “harder to measure local benefits” when it comes to climate change.

He did suggest that, if that had been the rationale, it would have been “vastly cheaper” to buy emission offsets from abroad.

READ MORE: Alberta NDP’s plan to phase out coal could triple power bills, Coal Association says

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Energy said the province has seen clear benefits from its decision to shut down its coal plants.

“The overwhelming consensus is clear – from climate and health experts both in government and in independent organizations – that the closure of coal plants in Ontario has resulted in significant reductions in air pollution and improved the lives of Ontarians,” the ministry’s director of communications, Dan Moulton, said.

Green also suggested that costs on the healthcare system are also difficult to measure, but said he doesn’t put much stock in the Alberta government’s projections that phasing out coal will prevent 600 deaths and avoid nearly $3 billion in negative health impacts.

Moulton said the province received endorsements from several health advocates, including the Ontario Medical Association, Asthma Society of Canada and the Ontario Lung Association.

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Green also suggested Alberta will weather the change better than Ontario because of cheaper access to natural gas.

“When Ontario made its transition the natural gas boom and the hydraulic fracturing that brought it out hadn’t happened yet,” Green said. “Natural gas prices were higher and somewhat more  volatile.”

LISTEN: Ken Green with the Fraser Institute on the impact of the coal phase-out