When we flick on the light switch or run our appliances, most of us don't think about where our electricity comes from. Many Canadians think our electricity simply comes from hydroelectric generation. As such, we do not associate it with the images of smoke stacks and billowing plumes that we see south of our border or elsewhere in the world where coal-fired electricity gets more attention.
The reality is that the combination of electricity sources—and therefore the qualities and characteristics of the electricity system—depend on where we live in the country. Some provinces live up to the common conception of predominantly hydroelectric power, but six provinces still burn coal to generate electricity and three of these—Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia—rely more on coal than any other source of electricity combined.
Provinces that are heavily coal-power-reliant experience a range of social and environmental costs from its combustion. By direct comparison—kilowatt-hour for kilowatt-hour—coal power is the dirtiest major source of power in Canada. It is also the highest contributor to greenhouse gases (GHGs). These emissions come with serious environmental and health costs—costs that clearly undermine the view that coal power is “cheap.” However, provincial leadership, particularly in Ontario, is proving that historical reliance on coal power can be traded in for cleaner, more reliable and more cost-effective alternative sources of electricity.
In light of the high GHG emissions from coal power, Environment Canada’s proposed regulations begin to reduce GHG emissions from the coal sector. While this is a step in the right direction, important opportunities to improve the regulations could provide better results. Worryingly, there are indications that some industry players are asking that Environment Canada weaken the proposed regulations, asking for changes that would reduce the expected GHG reductions by more than half over the first 15 years after the regulations come into effect.
This report makes clear that, despite popular misconceptions, Canada’s electricity is not, in all cases, “clean.” Nor is coal power particularly “cheap” when considering its high social and environmental costs. By acknowledging the real costs of our current electricity grid, we can better identify the need for an energy transition within Canada’s electricity sector. Alternatives are available today, and given the scale of the pollution caused by coal electricity highlighted in this report, that transition needs leadership now.
Read the Pembina Institute's full report by clicking here.
California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.
High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.
Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.
California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.
As reported by AccuWeather:
In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.
For a deeper dive:
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By Monir Ghaedi
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep most of Europe on pause, the EU aims for a breakthrough in its space program. The continent is seeking more than just a self-sufficient space industry competitive with China and the U.S.; the industry must also fit into the European Green Deal.
European satellites continue to provide data on climate change.