Final Report by the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities: section 6

Part 1: Introduction

Call to action for a just transition

Climate change is the challenge of our time. A 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set off alarm bells around the world and across Canada with calls for action to stop climate change.Footnote 2  It is widely recognized that without concerted efforts to minimize global temperature rises, future generations will live in a much different world.

Not only is action on climate change the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Global climatic shifts are already negatively impacting Canadians. More frequent and severe storms, droughts, floods, and forest fires are causing damage to homes, farms, and communities. Rising sea levels are threatening coastal communities across the country. More frequent heat waves are putting the lives of vulnerable Canadians at risk. Climate change is also putting pressure on the livelihoods of workers.

The evidence is clear: we all need to accelerate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Everyone and every country can, and must, participate. Acting now will help to minimize devastating impacts. Taking action on climate change is ultimately about protecting the wellbeing and security of Canadians today and for generations to come.

If implemented effectively, through a combination of policy reform and coordinated action, efforts to reduce GHG emissions can also result in new economic opportunities for Canadians. As some countries are already demonstrating, good green jobs linked to technological innovations are resulting in robust new economic sectors. Canadians have the skills, knowledge, and motivation to thrive during this transition and seize these opportunities.

Yet we cannot overlook the economic and social costs to those who have made a good living working in traditional resource sectors. Governments, along with employers and unions, must ensure that workers are not left behind as we transition to a cleaner, low-carbon economy.

What the future looks like will differ worker by worker, family by family, and community by community—but there is one common denominator. All will need new economic opportunities to replace traditional industries. A successful transition will mean good jobs, strong communities, and a bright future for workers and their families.

That is what just transition can accomplish.

What is just transition

Just transition means that society shares the costs of transitioning to a low-carbon economy. It would be unjust for workers and communities in affected sectors to shoulder the full cost of transition. These workers and communities, like all Canadians, have earned a better future.

In practice, just transition requires cooperation and collaboration among workers, unions, employers, communities, families, and all levels of government. Together, they actively identify and implement opportunities to develop skills, secure decent work, sustainably develop their communities, and enhance social protections.

Just transition is about more than supporting workers and communities affected in the short term; it requires a long-term path to prosperity.

Principles for a just transition

  • Respect for workers, unions, communities, and families
  • Worker participation at every stage of transition
  • Transitioning to good jobs
  • Sustainable and healthy communities
  • Planning for the future, grounded in today’s reality
  • Nationally coherent, regionally driven, locally delivered actions
  • Immediate yet durable support

Unions and civil society have been fighting for a global commitment to a just transition for those affected by the movement towards a low-carbon economy. The 2015 Paris Agreement, a historic international effort to reduce GHG emissions, strengthen adaptation efforts, and provide climate financing, also recognizes the need for a just transition.

Paris Agreement

"Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities...” parties to this agreement agreed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, including by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”Footnote 3 

Yet the Paris Agreement is only the start. It will take serious, deliberate, and ongoing effort to see it through. Over 180 Parties have ratified the Paris Agreement, including China, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada.Footnote 4  Each country must do their fair share to reduce GHG emissions and support affected workers and communities.

Since coal-fired electricity is a source of significant GHG emissions, it is widely recognized that all countries will need to phase out coal-fired electricity to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.Footnote 5  Analysis shows that to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives, coal phase-out is needed no later than 2030 in the OECD and EU28, and no later than by 2050 in the rest of the world.Footnote 6 

GHG emissions from coal-fired electricity generation

  • Coal-fired electricity was responsible for approximately 20% of global GHG emissions in 2013Footnote 7  and nearly 9% of GHG emissions in Canada in 2015.Footnote 8 
  • In 2015, coal was used to generate 11% of Canada’s electricity and was responsible for 78% of the electricity sector GHG emissions.Footnote 9 
  • Compared to coal, five major industries collectively produced fewer GHG emissions: pulp and paper, iron and steel, cement, lime and gypsum, and chemicals and fertilizers.Footnote 10 

In response to economic trends, health and environmental concerns, the use of coal to generate electricity has been declining in Canada for decades.

In 2012, the Government of Canada set limits on GHG emissions from coal-fired generating stations. This decision meant that the majority of stations would close earlier than planned. In 2016, the Government of Canada made the decision to accelerate the coal phase-out, setting a 2030 deadline for all traditional units.

The 2016 decision has started to directly affect coal miners and employees of generating stations, their families, communities, and employers. It is also anticipated that the phase-out will have a ripple effect, impacting not only the workers at the generating stations and mines, but also those who work with the coal power sector, such as contractors and suppliers, railways, and ports. It may also, in some jurisdictions, be felt by electricity consumers who have relatively more affordable electricity rates from coal-fired electricity generation. Phasing out coal-fired electricity will disrupt people’s lives, cause families to experience financial stress and uncertainty, and threaten the existence of whole communities. For those most affected, taking action on climate change means risking the wellbeing of their families and communities.

The Government of Canada cannot afford to ignore the wide-ranging impacts on affected workers and communities of its actions on climate change. The Government must acknowledge people’s anxieties and fears that reducing GHG emissions will negatively affect the livelihoods of some Canadians, and take the steps needed to secure a just transition. We cannot replace stable, good-paying jobs with precarious, low-wage work and leave workers and communities behind if we are to successfully transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

Under these circumstances, it is of the utmost importance that the Government of Canada—working closely with provinces, communities, employers, unions, and workers—put in place measures that will help both workers and their communities successfully navigate through the challenges imposed by the coal phase-out. Indigenous communities will be among those affected by the transition. Beyond providing economic opportunities and benefits to all communities, just transition can also contribute to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, consistent with calls for more equitable prosperity.

We are confident that other countries will be looking to Canada’s leadership on just transition actions as an example of how to put people at the center of progressive climate policy.

As important, if this first just transition plan is developed and implemented effectively, it will help to strengthen public support within Canada for future climate action. Concrete and effective just transition supports will help build the broad consensus needed for ambitious climate change action.

Just transition must become an integral part of climate action plans, in Canada and internationally, as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy. Without just transition, we risk increased polarization on this issue and eroding public support for action on climate change.

To transition successfully, all governments must be leaders for just transition: federal, provincial, and municipal. Employers, workers, spouses, youth, community members, and civil society also need to buy into, and ultimately embrace, the transition to a low-carbon Canada.

Now is the time to act, invest, plan, collaborate, partner and communicate to ensure Canada delivers on a just transition for Canadian coal power workers and communities.

How we developed this report

Following the direction set out in our mandate, the Task Force engaged directly with stakeholders to gather information on: the context for coal-fired electricity in each province; the known and anticipated impacts of the Government of Canada’s policy to accelerate the phase-out of coal generated electricity; transition planning that is underway; the strengths and weaknesses of existing funding and support systems available to provide transition supports to workers and communities; and any gaps in planning, policies, and programs.

We travelled to all four affected provinces in the spring and summer of 2018:

  • Alberta: May 14 to 17
  • Saskatchewan: June 11 to 13
  • New Brunswick: June 25 to 26
  • Nova Scotia: June 27 to 29

Across Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, we visited fifteen affected communities, held eight public engagement sessions, toured five generating stations, two mines, one port, and, met with as many employers of coal workers and businesses that rely on the coal industry as possible.

During these meetings we heard directly from affected workers and their families, employers, labour union representatives, municipalities, community members, business representatives, and economic development and non-governmental organizations. Everyone was both generous with their time and heartfelt with their insights.

We met with officials from provincial and federal governments. We also received written input from over two dozen individuals and organizations.

A separate report provides a summary of what we heard by province and theme.

Background and overview of coal-fired electricity in Canada

Coal has been used in Canada for centuries and is currently used for two main purposes: thermal coal to generate electricity; and metallurgical coal to produce steel, as summarized in Figure 3. The Government of Canada’s policy to accelerate the phase out of traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030 will affect only thermal coal production and use. Canada will continue to mine, use, and export coal for metallurgical processes.

In 2005, coal was being used to generate approximately 16% of electricity in Canada. By 2016, that number had dropped to 9%, largely attributable to Ontario’s closure of all of its coal-fired generating stations.Footnote 11

Coal phase-out in OntarioFootnote 12

In 2003, 25% of electricity in Ontario was generated from coal. From 2003-2014, Ontario phased out its five remaining coal-fired generating stations, which had 19 units and employed more than 1,400 workers. Two coal-fired generating stations were converted to biomass. Environment and health concerns, including a record number of smog advisories, helped to drive the Government of Ontario’s commitment to find alternatives to coal-fired electricity.

As shown in Figures 1 and 2, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick are the only provinces that continue to use coal to generate a significant percentage of their overall daily electricity generation. Alberta has the largest percentage of coal-fired generating capacity. Manitoba has a single coal-fired unit, for emergency use only that is slated to close before 2030. Manitoba Hydro plans to keep the workers impacted by this closure employed within its operations.Footnote 13

Figure 1 Coal-fired generating capacity by province, 2017Footnote 14

A pie chart showing the proportion of total coal-fired generating capacity generated by province, 2017.
Long description
Figure 1: proportion of total coal-fired electricity generated by province in 2017.
Province % coal fired electricity generated in 2017
Alberta 59%
Saskatchewan 19%
Nova Scotia 15%
New Brunswick 6%
Manitoba 1%

Circumstances in these four provinces vary greatly, which has and will impact the way any just transition plan is developed and implemented. Their differences influence relationships with workers, unions, communities, and governments—and the phase-out itself. Alberta has multiple private companies competing in an open electricity market. Nova Scotia has a single publicly-traded utility. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick each manage their electricity needs through crown corporations.

This said, all of these provinces have, to varying degrees, reduced the amounts of coal mined and used in their generating stations over the past decade. These reductions are due in large part to economic factors in the energy sector, but also because of environmental targets and regulations prompted by a growing recognition of the environment and health impacts of coal-fired electricity.

Figure 2 Map of coal-fired generating stations and thermal coal mines in Canada

A map of coal-fired generating stations and thermal coal mines in Canada.
Long description

A map of Canada depicts the location of generating stations and thermal coal mines in Canada, using icons to indicate their approximate geographic location.

Alberta:
Six generating station icons are distributed across in central and southern Alberta, listed in the following order:  

  1. Battle River Generating Station
  2. Genesee Generating Station
  3. H.R. Milner Generating Station
  4. Keephills Generating Station
  5. Sheerness Generating Station
  6. Sundance Generating Station

Five mine icons are distributed across the same region of Alberta, listed in the following order:

  1. Coal Valley Mine
  2. Genesee Mine
  3. Highvale Mine
  4. Paintearth Mine
  5. Sheerness Mine

Saskatchewan:
Three generating stations icons are located along the southern border in Saskatchewan, listed in the following order:

  1. Boundary Dam Power Station
  2. Poplar River Power Station
  3. Shand Power Station Estevan

Two mine icons are also located along the southern boarder in Saskatchewan, listed in the following order:

  1. Estevan Mine
  2. Poplar River Mine

New Brunswick:
Two generating stations icons are located in northern and southern New Brunswick, listed in the following order: 

  1. Belledune Generating Station
  2. Coleson Cove Generating Station

Nova Scotia:
Four generating station icons are located in central and northeastern Nova Scotia, including Cape Breton Island, listed in the following order:

  1. Lingan Generating Station
  2. Point Aconi Generating Station
  3. Point Tupper Generating Station
  4. Trenton Generating Station

Two mine icons are located in central and northeastern Nova Scotia, including Cape Breton Island, listed in the following order:

  1. Donkin Mine
  2. Stellarton Mine

Figure 3 Select History of Coal in Canada

A select history of coal in Canada
Long description

A timeline from pre-1700 to 2030 is shown, depicting a select history of coal in Canada, including the mining and use of both metallurgical and thermal coal. The following facts and events are listed sequentially.

Pre 1700 - 1800

  • First Nations identify deposits
  • Used for various tasks, including burning and trading
  • Industrial mining begins in Canada and makes major contributions to Canada’s industrialization
  • Shipping and transportation infrastructure is built

1800 – 1900

  • Use grows, as coal-fired steam engines become common
  • Canada’s trade union movement is established
  • Workers and unions’ advocacy strengthen labour laws

1900 - 2000

  • Alberta becomes the largest producer in Canada
  • Serious labour strikes occur, including in Cape Breton, NS, and Estevan, SK
  • Deadly mine disasters occur, including at the Hillcrest mine, AB, and in Springhill, NS
  • The post-war period sees a drop in the supply and demand for coal, as many consumers switch to petroleum
  • Mining shifts from underground to surface
  • Use grows as coal becomes more cost competitive following the collapse in oil prices in the 1970s
  • New export markets emerge, particularly in Asia in the 1990s

2000 – 2030

  • Ontario phases out coal-fired electricity
  • Canada commits to the phase-out in 2012 and decides to accelerate it in 2016, with a 2030 end date
  • In 2014, the Boundary Dam Generating Unit #3 near Estevan, SK, becomes the first commercial-scale unit with operational CCS technology
  • In 2016, Alberta begins to phase out coal and use a just transition model to help communities and workers

Beyond 2030

  • Traditional coal-fired electricity will be phased-out across Canada, while Canadians will continue to mine, trade, and use metallurgical coal for industrial purposes like steel-making

Economics

Contributions to Canada’s GDP

In 2016, mining, processing, and related services from thermal and metallurgical coal contributed an estimated $4 billion to Canada’s economy, or roughly 0.2% of Canada’s GDP.Footnote 15  Approximately half of this GDP contribution was from metallurgical coal. In comparison, clean energy accounted for 1.3% of Canada’s GDP.Footnote 16

Provincial, national, and international economic and environmental trends suggest that coal-fired electricity generation will continue to decline in Canada in the coming years.

Canada’s Energy Future: energy supply and demand projections to 2040

Energy Futures makes projections about possible energy futures over the long term using assumptions from past and recent trends related to technology, energy and climate policies, human behaviour, and the structure of the economy. In all its projections, traditional coal-fired capacity falls considerably by 2040 and is replaced by a combination of renewables, natural gas, and coal equipped with carbon capture and storage technology.Footnote 17

In some jurisdictions such as Alberta, natural gas can be a viable alternative to coal. Between 2014 and 2018 the price of natural gas fell by approximately 66% in Canada.Footnote 18  Combined with efforts to reduce GHG emissions, the lower price of natural gas and associated reduced labour costs has made switching from coal to natural gas more economically viable in the long-run for some generating stations.

Renewable energy is also becoming an increasingly viable and cost-effective option. Wind energy is now among the lowest-cost options for new electricity supply in most Canadian provinces.Footnote 19  Canadian utilities are actively exploring ways to deploy more renewables and recent infrastructure investments in hydroelectric prove that they are dedicated to following through. For example, Nalcor Energy’s Lower Churchill Project (also commonly known as the ‘Muskrat Falls’) in Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to help create employment and economic benefits in the province and to transmit power to Nova Scotia to help them achieve their renewable energy targets. From 2005 to 2015, electricity generation from renewable sources grew by 17% in Canada.Footnote 20

When looking at the future of coal, some projections assume that Canada will increase its use of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology for coal-fired electricity generation.Footnote 21  Research to date has shown that deploying this technology increases the cost of using coal. While coal-fired units with CCS are often not yet economically viable, the next generation of CCS may be deployable on a smaller scale and used by different types of industrial facilities.

Global coal trends in 2017

The use of coal remains below its 2014 global peak. Demand for coal energy fell by 1.6% in the United States in 2017. After two years of decline, 2.3% in 2015 and 2.1% in 2016, global coal demand rose by 1% in 2017. This increase is attributable to greater coal-fired generation in Asia, specifically China. At the same time, China’s official policy to “make China’s skies blue again” is driving efforts to phase out coal in industrial boilers and to reduce coal used in residential heating. Coal usage in China today remains below its 2013 peak. By comparison, renewables exhibited the highest rate of growth of any energy source in 2017. Renewable energy met around 25% of global energy demand growth in 2017. China and the United States together accounted for half of the increase in renewables-based electricity generation. Renewables now account for 25% of global electricity generation.Footnote 22

Health and environment

Research shows that using coal to generate electricity produces air pollutants and GHG emissions that are harmful to human health and the environment, including:

  • sulphur dioxide
  • nitrogen oxides
  • particulates
  • mercury
  • carbon dioxide
  • methane

Breathing these pollutants can contribute to lung cancer, asthma, other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and premature death.Footnote 23

Estimated health benefits to Canadians from phasing out coalFootnote 24

2012 regulations (2015 to 2035)

  • $4.2 billion in health benefits from reduced air pollutant exposure associated with reduced risk of mortality, and avoided emergency room visits and hospitalization for respiratory or cardiovascular problems
  • Prevention of 900 premature mortalities and 800 emergency room visits and hospitalization
  • 120,000 fewer asthma episodes, and 2,700,000 fewer days of breathing difficulty and reduced activity

2018 amendments to establish 2030 as the new phase out date for all coal-fired units (2019 to 2055)

  • $1.2 billion in health benefits from reduced air pollutant emissions and avoided human exposure to mercury
  • Prevention of almost 260 premature mortalities
  • 40,000 fewer asthma attacks and 190,000 fewer days of breathing difficulty and reduced activity

Pollution from coal can also negatively impact Canadians and their communities by causing acid rain, haze and smog. For people with asthma or cardiovascular illnesses, smog can prevent them from going outside or cause them to go to the emergency room. For children, smog alerts can mean staying inside during recess instead of playing outside.

Smog in Ontario

In 2005, there were 15 smog advisories covering 53 days. In 2014, when the last coal-fired generating station closed, there were zero smog advisories.Footnote 25

Using coal for electricity emits GHGs that contribute to climate change. Changes to Canada’s climate will have long-term negative impacts on the health, wellbeing, and wallets of Canadians, due to factors including more severe and frequent heatwaves, storms, and floods.

Insurance Bureau of Canada

The financial impacts of climate change and extreme weather events are being felt by a growing number of homeowners and communities across Canada. The increase in property and casualty insurance losses is indicative of the growing costs associated with these events. These losses averaged $405 million per year between 1983 and 2008, and $1.8 billion between 2009 and 2017.Footnote 26

Federal approach to phasing out coal-fired electricity

In 2012, the Government of Canada, under Conservative leadership, put in place the Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-fired Generation of Electricity Regulations.Footnote 27  This was the first set of regulations towards the phase-out of coal-fired electricity, requiring coal-fired electricity generating units in Canada to limit emissions to no more than 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour.

As a result of the 2012 regulations, most of Canada’s coal-fired units will close before their end-of-life date, unless they are equipped with technology to meet the performance standard or are located in a province that has an equivalency agreement with the Government of Canada.

In December 2018, the Government of Canada amended the 2012 regulations to accelerate the phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030. The amended regulations are now in force.

Negotiating an equivalency agreement

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, is the federal law that allows for the regulation of GHG emissions from coal-fired electricity and for equivalency agreements.

In the context of the coal-fired electricity regulations, an equivalency agreement between the federal government and a provincial government effectively stops Canada’s coal-fired electricity regulations from applying in that province.

A province can request to negotiate an agreement to continue using coal-fired electricity after 2030. For Canada to negotiate an agreement, the province must meet certain conditions, for example by reducing the same or a greater amount of GHG emissions from other sources. The alternative actions must have equivalent or better environmental results.

Meeting the performance standard

Coal-fired units equipped with CCS or units co-firing with a low-carbon fuel that meet the performance standard will be able to continue operating under the existing and amended regulations.

Provincial approaches to coal-fired electricity

Each province has unique circumstances and considerations. As a result, the coal phase-out is not unfolding in a uniform way across the country.

Alberta

The phase-out of coal is already well underway in Alberta. In November 2015, the Government of Alberta released its Climate Leadership Plan, which included commitments to phase out coal-fired electricity and to increase its power generation mix to 70% natural gas and 30% renewables by 2030.Footnote 28  Given the availability of natural gas, some companies have begun switching coal-fired generating stations over to this lower-carbon emissions and reduced labour option, well in advance of 2030. As a result, layoffs have begun and more are anticipated in the near future.

In 2016, the Government of Alberta concluded a $1.1 billion compensation agreement with TransAlta, ATCO, and Capital Power, the major utilities in Alberta that use coal. In 2017, a provincial panel, the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities, examined the effects of the coal phase-out on workers and communities and released its recommendations for the provincial government.Footnote 29

Alberta’s Coal Transition Coalition

Following the release of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, the Alberta labour movement immediately organized a coalition of the coal-affected unions in the province to form the Coal Transition Coalition (CTC). This allowed affected unions to pool their resources and to speak with one voice. The work of the CTC was instrumental in defining the supports that Alberta coal-affected workers would need as part of the transition. This is a concrete example of how ensuring worker involvement throughout the process leads to better policy decisions and ultimately better outcomes.

In response to the Advisory Panel’s report and other considerations, the Government of Alberta has implemented programs to mitigate, to some extent, the impacts on workers and communities. In November 2017 the Government of Alberta announced two funding programs: a $5 million Coal Community Transition Fund to municipalities for economic diversification plans and feasibility studies; and, a $40 million Coal Workforce Transition Fund to assist laid-off workers.

Alberta’s approach to supporting affected workers

In November 2017, the Government of Alberta announced a $40 million program of income supports and retraining assistance for workers in coal-fired generating stations and coal mines who will be laid off as a result of the coal phase-out. It included:

  • Employment Insurance (EI) enhancements: workers to receive 75% of previous weekly earnings to a maximum of 45 weeks
  • income enhancement for workers approaching retirement: workers to maintain 75% of their previous weekly earnings until they are eligible for employer pensions (to a maximum of 72 weeks)
  • payment of up to $5,000 in expenses for workers who relocate at least 40 kilometres to start a new job
  • a maximum of $12,000 in tuition vouchers for any post-secondary education and career retraining initiated within five years of the lay-off

In addition to individual worker funding, the province offers: career counselling and job-search skills training at affected worksites; transition services to help develop individualized plans, identify existing skills, and administer short-term courses in skills development; help in establishing worker adjustment committees to arrange training or match skills to job openings; and partnerships and labour force training for Indigenous communities.

Saskatchewan

Since 2014, Saskatchewan has been operating the world’s first CCS system on their Boundary Dam Unit 3 generating unit near Estevan. Canada and Saskatchewan co-signed an agreement-in-principle in November 2016 to work together on an equivalency agreement for the federal 2012 regulations for the pre-2030 period. In 2017 the Government of Saskatchewan released its Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy, referencing the merits of an equivalency agreement with the Government of Canada that would enable them to continue using coal-fired electricity.Footnote 30  The Strategy also committed to determine the viability of extending CCS technology to all its coal plants. Since the release of the Strategy, SaskPower and the Government of Saskatchewan have announced that they are not planning to deploy additional CCS technology on Unit 4 and Unit 5 at the Boundary Dam Generating Station, but SaskPower is evaluating the feasibility of implementing CCS on their newest unit at the Shand Power Station.

New Brunswick

The Government of New Brunswick adopted its Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy: New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan in 2016.Footnote 31  In that plan, the province committed to coal phase-out as quickly as possible, while respecting the province’s economic reality. New Brunswick Power, the provincially-owned utility, plans to eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2030 by replacing it with a new, cleaner energy source to keep the Belledune Generating Station in operation. The utility is investing up to $7 million to investigate alternative fuel sources for the generating station, including the use of hydrogen fuel sources, while also looking at biomass and natural gas.

Nova Scotia

The Province of Nova Scotia has its own climate change strategy, Toward a Greener Future: Nova Scotia’s Climate Change Action Plan.Footnote 32  Adopted in 2009, it focuses on making energy in Nova Scotia cleaner overall instead of specifically targeting coal. This policy is backed bythe province’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Regulations, which established GHG emission caps on the electricity sector. Nova Scotia's Renewable Electricity Plan also supports the Action Plan by setting renewable electricity generation targets of 25% by 2015 and 40% by 2020. Nova Scotia exceeded its 2015 target by 2% and reports being on track to reach 40% by 2020. Recognizing these outcomes, the Governments of Nova Scotia and Canada signed an equivalency agreement to exempt the province from Canada’s 2012 coal-fired electricity regulations.That agreement came into effect in July 2015. The governments have also recently established an agreement in principle to work on a new equivalency agreement for the amended coal-fired electricity regulations.

Table 1 Utilities with coal-fired assets

A. Publicly traded utilities
  TransAlta (Alberta) ATCO
(Alberta)
Capital Power (Alberta) Nova Scotia Power
Percent of provincial generating capacity owned (all capacity, including coal) 32% 12% 16% 83%
Percent of provincial generating capacity owned that is coal-fired 22% 10% 9% 24%
Number of coal-fired generating stations majority owned 2.5** 1.5** 1 4*
Number of coal-fired units (wholly or co-owned units) 12 5 4 8*
B. Crown corporations
  New Brunswick Power SaskPower
Percent of provincial generating capacity owned (all capacity, including coal) 66% 80%
Percent of provincial generating capacity owned that is coal-fired 18% 34%
Number of coal-fired generating stations majority owned 2* 3
Number of coal-fired units (wholly or co-owned units) 2* 7

*Includes petroleum coke units
**TransAlta and ATCO co-own (50/50 share) the Sheerness Thermal Generating Station in Alberta

Affected workers

Workers at coal mines and generating stations are highly skilled and uniquely qualified for the work they perform. They include engineers, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators, and maintenance staff. Most of the positions offer full-time employment, a higher than average wage based on the local costs of living, health benefits, and a pension plan consistent with their collective agreement (Figure 4 provides some illustrative examples). In 2017, these workers generally earned considerably more than Alberta’s and Nova Scotia’s average wage of $30.01 and $23.35 per hour, respectively.Footnote 33

Based on the best available data, there are between 1,880 and 2,400 people working at coal-fired generating stations and between 1,200 and 1,500 working at thermal coal mines. It is anticipated that a significant number of these workers will lose their jobs by 2030—and some already have.

While nearly all thermal coal mine employees will be affected, some coal miners will continue to supply the Boundary Dam CCS unit and the Shand CCS research facility in Saskatchewan. For generating stations that convert to natural gas, employment in the station will be reduced by an estimated 60-70%. These percentages will vary for generating stations that convert to biomass or other alternatives.

Figure 4 Examples of what a unionized coal worker can earn in Alberta and in Nova Scotia based on their respective collective agreements. These unionized workers receive a pension and benefits package in addition to their wages.

Workers represented by United Steelworks Local 1595 (Highvale Mine in AB):

  • Trades such as welders, mechanics, electricians and millwrights make from $35 per hour for a first-year apprentice to $47 per hour for a certified journeyman
  • Heavy equipment operators, coal handling plant operators, truck drivers, drill operators and road maintenance workers earn wages in the $40 per hour range
  • General labourers, janitors, and wash bay attendants earn between $34 and $37 per hour

Workers represented by IBEW Local 254 (Sunhills and Keephills generating stations in AB):

  • Operators, power engineers, equipment and instrument maintenance staff make from $27 to $55 per hour, depending on the level of certification and experience
  • Equipment and instrumentation maintenance staff and equipment operators make between $37 and $42 per hour
  • Labourers make between $32 and $35 per hour

Generating station workers represented by IBEW Local 1928 in NS:

  • Power engineers and technicians earn from $21 per hour for first-year apprentices up to $45 per hour for a supervisor with trade certification
  • Electricians, mechanics, and maintenance staff earn in the range of $21 to $41 per hour
  • Storekeepers earn $23 to $33 per hour

Considering gender and single income families

Men represent the large majority of those facing job losses in the coal sector. While women are underrepresented in both mining and power generation industries, they will also be affected by layoffs. A benchmark 2016 labour market study determined that women made up 17% of the Canadian mining workforce.Footnote 34  Women comprised the majority of positions in human resources, finance, and support roles for mining companies, but they only accounted for 4% of trades and 20% of technical occupations. In jobs related to coal-fired generating stations, the 2016 census has 6% of power engineers, 4.7% of power system electricians, and 1.1% of millwrights and industrial mechanics as women.

The impact of job loss in the coal sector is greater for families where the coal worker is the sole earner. Prolonged unemployment or accepting work far from home can lead to stress and frustration, which may negatively influence the health and wellbeing of workers, their spouses, and children. In the latter case, the stay-at-home partners bear the burden of running a family household with less support, money, and time. Additionally, children are affected by absent parents and disrupted routines.

Affected communities

In relation to thermal coal mines and coal generated electricity, there are nearly 50 affected communities in Canada, each with its own unique history, population, geography, economic circumstance, and overall landscape. Despite their distinct characteristics, these communities share strong cultural ties to the coal industry.

Canadian coal communities are small cities, towns, or villages with populations ranging from 650 to 34,000 residents. There are a number of regions where groupings of neighboring communities rely on the coal industry to support their economy. In places like Cape Breton, NS, coal has helped sustain the region for hundreds of years. In Saskatchewan, impacts may be felt up to 100 kilometres away from towns such as Coronach, as many residents commute long distances for work in the mine and generating station.

The western and maritime coal provinces have distinct economic circumstances and demographics. Alberta and Saskatchewan have oil-dependent economies subject to economic shocks, such as the 2008 recession, and volatile oil prices, as demonstrated by the 2014 oil crash. Communities in Nova Scotia and northern New Brunswick have a history of industry collapse or turnover and continue to face long-term impacts from the decline of industries such as mining, manufacturing, and pulp and paper.

Unemployment in coal communities in both the western and maritime coal provinces is higher than the national average, reaching double digits in Cape Breton, NS, and the Campbellton-Miramichi region, NS. The median age is more than 50 years, well above the national average, in coal communities in the maritime provinces and in a number of small Alberta coal towns. Their demographic profile poses unique challenges, particularly with regards to healthcare and retirement security. In nearly all coal communities, young families are difficult to attract and retain, influencing the economic outlook of these communities.

While the sense of urgency varies, all coal communities in Canada are discussing transition. A number of factors influence community-level discussions and approaches, including the degree of impact on their municipal tax bases, businesses and services, and population growth. Some communities rely significantly, or entirely, on the coal industry and are more vulnerable to the phase-out. Residents in communities that are further from urban centres and more isolated, such as Hanna, AB, will not easily be able to access services and opportunities offered in larger cities should their local services decline as a result of the phase-out of coal.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: