Posted on August 11, 2011 (updated: August 11, 2011)

Alberta Utilities Commission fails to protect public interest with final coal plant approval

CALGARY — Today’s final decision by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) to approve a coal plant expansion proposed by Maxim Power Corp. represents a serious failure by the AUC to safeguard the public interest that could undermine upcoming federal greenhouse gas regulations, according to two of Canada’s leading environmental groups.

Ecojustice and the Pembina Institute are considering their options in light of today’s final approval [PDF]. The two organizations recently filed a court challenge [external link] to appeal the AUC’s interim approval of this plant, an approval blatantly timed to attempt to beat the deadline of future federal greenhouse gas regulations on coal-fired power.

Upon granting the interim approval for the Maxim project, the AUC indicated that it would issue a final approval “with reasons and any necessary conditions in due course.”

But the decision issued today contains insufficient justification for the project. It also sets no conditions to address the plant’s substantial greenhouse gas pollution.

“After helping this coal plant to beat the federal deadline, the AUC has now also loosened the standard for greenhouse gas pollution in Alberta,” said Chris Severson-Baker, managing director of the
Pembina Institute. “Approvals issued a decade ago included a requirement that the companies offset the plant emissions down to the level of a natural gas power plant. Today’s decision is a 10-year step backward for the AUC and the province of Alberta.”

When then-environment minister Jim Prentice announced his intention to adopt federal greenhouse gas regulations on coal-fired electricity that would take effect on July 1, 2015, he tried to allay
concerns about the delayed implementation of the regulations by stating  that “We will guard against any rush to build non-compliant coal plants in the interim.”

“This is precisely the ‘rush-to-build’ scenario Minister Prentice anticipated, and promised to prevent,” Severson-Baker said. “It’s
now up to Environment Minister Peter Kent to keep the federal government’s promise and to ensure the AUC’s approval doesn’t undermine the pending federal coal regulations — benefitting one company at the expense of all Canadians.”

“This final decision fails to provide any insight into the AUC’s rush to issue the interim decision at the end of June,” said Ecojustice
lawyer Barry Robinson. “One can only assume that it was the AUC’s intent to assist Maxim in avoiding the pending federal regulations. It’s difficult to understand how that can be in the interest of all Albertans.”

Robinson said that Ecojustice and Pembina are reviewing the final decision in more detail and will make a decision with respect to further appeals in the coming days.




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