Yellowhead Highway: a Yellow Anvil on the Horizon

December 1, 2009

We noticed the dull yellow-grey plume miles away from Edmonton heading north on Highway 2. Heading east towards Edmonton from Hinton on the Yellowhead it seems to hover beside the highway for hundreds of kilometers. A local resident described the “smog from the Genesee power plant’s big stacks [as forming] a yellow anvil on the horizon (Wiebe 2008-05)

The four coal-fired power plants in the Wabumun Lake area produce about 74% of Alberta’s CO2 emissions (CASA 2003). How far does the plume of mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter and other air contaminants extend? Does it reach Jasper? the glaciers?


1998 Canada ratified the Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long- Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Heavy Metals, thereby committing to control emissions of heavy metals from specified activities, including combustion of fossil fuels (CASA p.41) .

2001-12-12 Alberta’s Energy and Utilities Board approved EPCOR’s application for major expansion of its Genesee coal-fired plant by 490 megawatts (CASA p.32)

2002-01 Hon. Lorne Taylor, Alberta’s Minister of Environment, asked CASA to develop an approach for managing air emissions from the electricity sector. This report and package of recommendations is CASA’s response to that request. It is recommended that the new framework be fully implemented by January 1, 2006.

2001-06 “Alberta’s minister of environment announced new emission standards for new coal-fired electricity generation plants. Against the backdrop of deregulation of the electricity industry in Alberta and expected expansion of generation capacity, public concerns had been expressed about the process used to develop these new standards and about the standards themselves. As part of the June announcement, the Alberta government indicated it wanted to develop a new approach for setting standards and performance expectations for the electricity sector (CASA p.35).”

2001 “The lack of public consultation prior to the Alberta government issuing the 2001 air emission standards for the electricity sector was cited as an example. Concerns were also noted about the lack of transparency and public engagement in the process for a Canada-wide Standard for mercury from coal-fired plants, as compared with other CWS (Canada-Wide Standard) processes (CASA p.36).”

2002-02-12 Alberta’s Energy and Utilities Board approved TransAlta’s 900-MW Keephills for major expansion (two units) of its coal-fired plant (CASA p.32).

2003 “Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction commitment under the Kyoto Protocol is a 6% reduction from 1990 levels by the first Kyoto period of 2008-2012. Although the Protocol has not yet entered into force and views about it varied among EPT members, the team undertook its work on the assumption that the Protocol would come into force in the next year or so. The Kyoto Protocol will set legally binding targets and a timeframe within which these targets must be met, but each country must work out how it will meet its target. To give countries more options for meeting their targets, the Protocol contains three flexibility mechanisms that will allow countries to find emissions reductions opportunities that make the most economic sense (CASA p.41).”

2006-01 Effective January 1, 2006, all standards for new thermal generation unit (ay unit that does not meet the criteria for any “existing” unit and will therefore be required to comply with the BATEA or other emissions limits in effect at the time) will be based on Best Available Technology Economically Achievable (BATEA). CASA

Webliography and Bibliography

Celia, Michael A. “Risk of Leakage versus Depth.” Princeton University. with Jan Nordbotten (U. Bergen and Princeton U.); Stefan Bachu (Alberta Research Council); Mark Dobossy (Princeton U.); Benjamin Court (Princeton U.).

Schindler, David W. 2004-12. “Lake Wabamun: A Review of Scientific Studies and Environmental Impacts.” Submitted to the Minister of Alberta Environment.

Clean Air Strategic Alliance (CASA) 2003. An Emissions Management Framework for the Alberta Electricity Sector – Report to Stakeholders. Prepared by (CASA) Clean Air Strategic Alliance Electricity Project Team

Wiebe, Christopher. 2008-05. “Plowed Under.” AMA Feature.

In Albertans & Climate Change: Taking Action, the Alberta government requires all new coal-fired generation facilities to offset their greenhouse gas emissions down to the level of a combined cycle natural gas turbine.

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