5. A Power System Primed For Change

As any economist will tell you, the price of a given product or service should accurately reflect its true cost and value. In the case of Alberta’s electricity market, we know that pollution represents a cost to society—through health impacts and degraded land and water. Although the costs of pollution are challenging to calculate, they are not impossible to quantify.

Just over a year ago, a coalition of public health organizations—the Asthma Society of Canada, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and The Lung Association of Alberta and NWT—published a study with the Pembina Institute. A Costly Diagnosis: Subsidizing Coal Power With Albertans’ Health concluded that the price consumers pay for coal power doubles—or even triples—when health and ecological factors are accounted for (Anderson et al., 2013).

A Costly Diagnosis found that burning coal in Alberta runs up a tab of roughly $300 million a year in health costs. In the past five years, Alberta’s citizens and businesses have spent roughly $1.5 billion on health care costs indirectly related to coal.

Furthermore, Environment Canada’sanalysis of its own coal regulations found that by limiting coal units to a maximum life of 50 years, more than 590 premature deaths would be avoided in Alberta over the next 20 year—the time horizon of this report (Government of Canada, 2012).

A spring 2013 NRG Research Group poll found that more than two-thirds (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 (Clean Energy Canada, 2013). A more recent poll found that 80 per cent of Albertans would like their electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar instead of burning black rock. The latter research also found that two-thirds of Albertans are willing to pay higher prices for electricity generated by wind and solar power (Klinkenberg, 2014).