Parkland County cuts operating budget by $4M, blames Alberta coal phase-out plan for fiscal pressures

Accelerated Alberta coal phase-out felt in Parkland County
The fallout from the accelerated phase out of coal power is starting to be felt in Parkland County. As Tom Vernon reports, small businesses are being hit hard with fewer customers, and rising costs.

An Alberta jurisdiction west of Edmonton, that says it’s feeling economic pressure from the province’s accelerated coal phase-out plan, is calling on the NDP government for help after its council says it felt forced to slash its operating budget by $4 million.

“These budget adjustments are a direct consequence of the accelerated phase-out of coal-fired energy,” Parkland County’s chief administrative officer Mike Heck said in a news release on Wednesday. “While the provincial and federal governments set policy for coal to be phased out by 2030, power generation companies have accelerated their planning by approximately eight years.

“The county has requested support from the Government of Alberta to mitigate some of the adverse financial impacts the accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power generation is currently causing… as of today, the answer is no,” Heck added.

“Without a path forward, it’s clear we have been left behind to deal with this on our own.”

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Watch below: On Feb. 12, 2018, Tom Vernon filed this report as some communities dependent on coal said Alberta wasn’t doing enough to prepare for the eventual shutdown of the industry.

Coal-dependent communities say Alberta needs to do more to prepare for industry phase-out
Coal-dependent communities say Alberta needs to do more to prepare for industry phase-out

In the winter, Parkland County took a unique approach to trying to raise the profile of the problems it says it’s facing because of the phase-out — a social media campaign centred around a video in which area residents spoke about how important the coal industry was for them.

Nine of Alberta’s 18 coal-fired plants are in Parkland County and many people in the community have already been laid off because of the coal- phase-out plan or are expecting to be laid off soon. The mayor has said coal-fired plants in the county contribute to about a quarter of the county’s tax revenue as well as about 4,000 direct and indirect jobs. In the winter, Rod Shaigec told Global News he wanted the provincial government to work with the government to diversify the local economy and on Wednesday, he lamented that little action has been taken so far.

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“As TransAlta moves toward the conversion to natural gas, various business decisions have been made that have serious implications on municipal tax revenue,” Shaigec said. “Unfortunately, neither the provincial nor federal governments have stepped up to provide assistance, and council is forced to make tough decisions.

“This means the burden of these costs will now be carried on the shoulders of our residents, businesses and community groups.”

Shaigec has said the coal companies are getting money to offset the costs of transitioning away from coal, as are workers, but municipalities are being left out.

In April 2017, TransAlta announced it was committed to phasing out its coal-fired power plants years ahead of Alberta government deadlines.

READ MORE: TransAlta to phase out coal power years ahead of Alberta’s deadline

While some of TransAlta’s coal facilities are being shut this year, others are planned to be converted to natural gas facilities by the end of 2023, six years ahead of the NDP government’s deadline.

READ MORE: Alberta makes deal with power producers to phase out coal by 2030

Watch below:┬áIn November 2016, Tom Vernon filed this report after Alberta’s NDP government announced an agreement with three power companies being forced to shutter coal plants early.

NDP strikes deal with companies forced to shutter coal plants early
NDP strikes deal with companies forced to shutter coal plants early

In November 2016, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the province struck a deal with three major coal-sourced power producers that would see the government pay them a total of $97 million a year over the next 14 years as they transition away from coal.

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“Alberta is by far the largest source of coal pollution in Canada, with greenhouse gas emissions that exceed the sum of every car from British Columbia to Manitoba,” Phillips said at the time. “We are phasing out coal pollution in a measured, financially responsible way that will improve air quality and the health of Albertans.”

According to Parkland County officials, the county presented the NDP government with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in December, “which outlines a proactive plan for effective offsets to the loss of coal.”

“As of today’s date, the county has not received a response from the Government of Alberta on the MOU,” the county said in a news release on Wednesday.

“While we respect the policy decisions of the Government of Alberta, we are disappointed the importance of investment in the local area has not been recognized,” Shaigec said. “This is a setback for our community as we continue to deal with the impacts of the accelerated phase out of coal.”

Global News reached out to Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous for a response to Parkland County’s comments about the MOU and the county’s request for more help. A spokesperson said Bilous was unavailable because he was travelling.

–With files from Global News’ Tom Vernon and The Canadian Press