NDP kills coal as rest of the world builds plants

Calgary Herald - - EDITORIAL - MARK MILKE Mark Milke is a Cal­gary au­thor and colum­nist.

In the anti-re­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal­ly­driven econ­omy that has become Al­berta in re­cent years, there is now an­other new hostage to pol­i­tics: Wit­ness the forced killing of coal towns by the provin­cial gov­ern­ment.

On Mon­day, the prov­ince an­nounced a new “tran­si­tion” fund for Al­berta’s coal-de­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ties. This fol­lows up on pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment pol­icy that de­creed no elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion shall be fired by coal af­ter 2030.

It chose that course rather than al­low a mere five plants to close down over the orig­i­nal planned life of the fa­cil­i­ties, start­ing in 2036, with the last in 2061.

The tax­payer-fi­nanced fund is meant to help coal towns think about how to help the thou­sands of un­em­ployed Al­ber­tans soon to end up that way be­cause of po­lit­i­cal pol­icy. Thus, the usual lan­guage about “di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion” is em­ployed. So too the pre­dictable gov­ern­ments­peak about iden­ti­fy­ing “strate­gies to sup­port worker tran­si­tion.”

Re­al­ity check: Blue col­lar work­ers in mines and oth­ers with spe­cial­ties re­lated to min­er­als will not eas­ily find em­ploy­ment else­where, not when Al­berta al­ready has 202,000 work­ers un­em­ployed.

Re­call that Al­berta’s main in­dus­try and em­ployer, en­ergy, is also yet slug­gish due to the triple hit from low prices; gov­ern­ment pol­icy in Victoria, Edmonton and Ot­tawa; and anti-re­source ac­tivists who seek to kill off this coun­try’s forestry, min­eral and re­source sec­tors.

On Al­berta’s coal job losses, the prov­ince claims that new in­vest­ment in elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion will help cush­ion that blow.

This be­lief mim­ics the fa­mous eco­nomic fal­lacy where a bro­ken win­dow is said to cre­ate new eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity. A van­dal breaks a win­dow and the shop­keeper pays a thou­sand dol­lars to re­place it. Ob­servers then see the win­dow in­staller and as­sume an ex­panded econ­omy.

Prob­lem: With­out a bro­ken win­dow, the shop­keeper had $1,000 to spend on some­thing else, per­haps two suits worth $500 each. Now, some tai­lor has less work.

Les­son: The over­all eco­nomic ef­fect of the bro­ken win­dow is neu­tral.

It’s the same with provin­cial pol­icy on coal-fired elec­tric­ity. The prov­ince is break­ing that mainly ru­ral and bluecol­lar in­dus­try, which al­lowed for rel­a­tively cheap elec­tric­ity. In its place, the prov­ince or­ders up new in­vest­ment.

Prob­lem: When the prov­ince de­crees costly new power gen­er­a­tion be­fore the old plants were due to re­tire, some­one pays twice: con­sumers, tax­pay­ers and com­pa­nies, or all three.

Ev­i­dence for the ex­tra, gov­ern­ment-man­dated costs are not dif­fi­cult to spot: Sub­si­dies for re­new­ables, com­pen­sa­tion for com­pa­nies with coal-fired plants and the cost of new, ear­lier-than-planned in­vest­ment.

Ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with the ar­gu­ments for the forced shut­down: Car­bon emis­sions and global warm­ing, and coal pol­lu­tion. The lat­ter is a bit hyped: 21st cen­tury Al­berta is not be­set by 19th cen­tury Lon­don-style soot. Nor are Al­ber­tans suf­fer­ing from Chi­nese-style pol­lu­tion.

For the record, Chi­nese com­pa­nies will con­tinue to build new coal-fired elec­trici- ty plants at home and abroad, 700 of them, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times. As the news­pa­per sum­ma­rized it in July, “China’s en­ergy com­pa­nies will make up nearly half of the new coal gen­er­a­tion ex­pected to go online in the next decade.”

World­wide, 1,600 new coal­fired plants in 62 coun­tries are planned.

Even Ger­many has no plans to kill coal-fired plants by 2030. It even al­lowed new coal-fired plants to be built in the last decade. Also, it ap­pears that if Ger­man coal­fired plants ever ex­pire, it will re­sult from eco­nom­ics and not pol­icy.

In Canada, the killing of coal com­mu­ni­ties is ar­ti­fi­cial be­cause it is gov­ern­ment in­duced. It is also ex­pen­sive and will do lit­tle for global car­bon emis­sions.

Which begs this point: If Canada’s politicians were se­ri­ous about car­bon emis­sions, they would de­mand that 62 other coun­tries — China in par­tic­u­lar — first stop adding coal-fired power to their own grids be­fore Canada does more on this file.

In­stead, it ap­pears Canada’s politicians will sac­ri­fice do­mes­tic blue col­lar work­ers.

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