Almost all carbon dioxide emissions in the electricity sector are produced by power plants burning fossil fuels. In 2016, the electricity sector was the fourth-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Coal-fired power plants accounted for nearly three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.
In 2018, Canada’s federal government proposed updating regulations that would accelerate the phaseout of traditional coal-fired units by 2030. The existing regulation requires coal-fired units to meet a performance standard of 420 metric tons of carbon dioxide per gigawatt-hour or retire when they reach 50 years of operation. The objective of carbon dioxide performance standards is to reduce emissions by requiring designated sources to employ technology or other measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Coal-fired units could meet this standard by installing carbon capture and storage or using carbon-neutral biomass.
Four provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia — generate a significant portion of their electricity from coal-fired units. Ontario has already phased out coal plants in 2014. Alberta plans to phaseout coal plans in the province by 2030.
An alternative to this regulatory approach is to cap power sector emissions. Two provinces — Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan — have established greenhouse gas emissions caps that limit emissions from the power sector.