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Edmonton Journal: "Poll Suggests Albertans Want to End Love Affair With Coal"

The Edmonton Journal covers our polling on Alberta’s attitudes towards coal power. Here’s a copy of the original article by reporter Karen Kneiss:

Alberta burns more coal than all other Canadian provinces combined and the vast majority of people surveyed want the provincial government to find alternatives, a new poll suggests.

A survey of 600 Albertans conducted for Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada found 68 per cent of those polled want the government to reduce the province’s reliance on coal-fired electricity.

“It really gives the government the social licence to take action,” Clean Energy Canada director Merran Smith said, noting Ontario will phase out coal-fired electricity this fall.

“There’s a real opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, demonstrate climate leadership and create opportunities for the renewable energy sector, and to create jobs as well, so it’s a win win win.”

The poll, conducted in early April by NRG Research Group, found 68 per cent of Albertans want coal plants phased out or shut down and replaced with natural gas and renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro. Fifteen per cent want coal plants to implement carbon capture and storage, while 14 per cent are happy with the province’s level of coal consumption. Three per cent had other suggestions.

Albertans have until recently been largely unaware of the province’ heavy reliance on coal. A 2012 report from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy revealed just 35 per cent of Albertans are aware of the fact that 71 per cent of the province’s electricity comes from coal.

In 2011, Alberta burned 26 million metric tonnes of coal, more than all other provinces combined, Statistics Canada says.

Alberta’s heavy use of coal made headlines last month when a coalition of physician, health and environmental groups released a report that said 3,000 Albertans will die prematurely in the next 20 years due to coal-related pollution.

The report also said health costs related to coal-fired power was roughly $300 million a year.

Industry and government officials disputed the claims. The government says Alberta’s coal-fired plants have reduced greenhouse gas emissions 12 million tonnes since 2007, and industry highlighted a 2006 University of Alberta study that showed people who live in a 100-kilometre radius of coal-fired plants are just as healthy as other Albertans.

In 2011, the province was working on an alternative and renewable energy policy framework but it is not clear whether that strategy is moving ahead.

“I would be interested in receiving any proposal that would advance the goal of greening our energy grid, but it would be premature to speculate on the implementation of a renewable energy framework,” Energy Minister Ken Hughes said Tuesday in a prepared statement. He said coal-fired plants provide a secure and affordable source of electricity.

“We will be taking further steps to reduce our carbon footprint under the new federal guidelines, as up to a dozen plants representing up to 3800 megawatts of generating capacity will close over the next 17 years. That’s almost a quarter of Alberta’s current generating capacity.”

The poll is accurate to within 4.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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