Request to appeal approval of coal-fired power plant denied

Environmentalists promise to keep fighting a controversial coal-fired power plant that could escape federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions, despite losing a bid to appeal the approval of northwestern Alberta project.

EDMONTON — Environmentalists promise to keep fighting a controversial coal-fired power plant that could escape federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions, despite losing a bid to appeal the approval of northwestern Alberta project.

The ruling lobs the issue of Maxim Power’s 500-megawatt proposal directly into the lap of federal Environment Minister Peter Kent.

In a ruling released Friday, the Alberta Court of Appeal turned down a request from the Pembina Institute to appeal Maxim’s interim approval.

The plant was granted temporary go-ahead last summer. It was granted in response to the company’s desire to have the plant running before July 1, 2015. That would exempt it from new federal regulations on coal-fired plants that come into effect on that date.

Those regulations will restrict such power plants to greenhouse gas emissions no greater than those from similar-sized natural-gas-fired plants. Maxim’s (TSX:MXG) project is predicted to emit about twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas.

The Appeal Court ruled that the Alberta Utilities Commission had all the information it needed when it made its interim decision. The court pointed out the process had been going on for 28 months by then.

“The commission had all of the evidence before it when it released the interim decision,” wrote Justice Patricia Rowbotham.

The court also shot down legal arguments that the official commissioning date of the plant should be fixed at Aug. 10, 2015. It said determining the startup date of large construction projects is beyond the power of the utilities commission.

“The commission has little control over when the plant will commence operations,” wrote Rowbotham, who added that it should remain up to the commission to determine when it issues its approvals.

Maxim said the plant will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent compared to the province’s other coal-fired plants.

“(The project) is a reliable and low-cost generation supply solution for Albertans that is entirely consistent with federal and provincial goals for emissions reductions,” the company said in a release.

Pembina spokesman Chris Severson-Baker called on Kent to fulfil promises he made last summer after the Maxim interim approval was granted.

“It puts the onus squarely on minister Kent at this point,” said Severson-Baker. “Minister Kent has said that when the regulations were introduced over a year ago now, the intent was to prevent projects from sneaking in and circumventing the new regulation.”

On Sept. 9, Kent told The Canadian Press that “it was never the intention to create a loophole for short-cutters to get in and get a half-century licence to emit greenhouse gases or to put other toxins into the air which have serious impacts on Canadians living downwind.”

An email Friday from a department spokesman suggests otherwise. It says that July 1, 2015, will be the starting point for the new rules.

“We are aware that some companies have plans to develop or expand their coal units,” said spokesman Henry Lau. “At this time, we have no plans for further action.”

Severson-Baker said the department’s comments are “not consistent” with Kent’s earlier statement.

He said the Pembina Institute has written to the minister urging him to live by his remarks. If he doesn’t, Severson-Baker promised opposition to the plant will continue.

Severson-Baker said failing to enforce the regulations with Maxim would signal that Canada isn’t serious about addressing greenhouse gases.

“It’s obvious that if we’re going to do anything to address climate change that we need to use other forms of energy. You have to start ruling out certain things that are intensely polluting, like uncontrolled coal-fired power.”