Aerial view of a coal-fired power plant.

Coal

Historically Canada has been a significant producer and consumer of coal. That’s changed over the last decade; production peaked in 1997 at about 78 million tonnes.

The vast majority — about 85 per cent — of Canada’s coal is mined in B.C. and Alberta.

The number one use of coal in Canada is for electricity. However, in 2016 the federal government announced a plan to phase out the use of coal-powered electricity by 2030. In 2003 Ontario announced a plan to eliminate coal-fired power plants by 2014.

In 2015 Alberta announced a plan to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030 to keep in line with federal targets.

As countries around the world look to reduce greenhouse gas emission and air pollution, worldwide demand for thermal coal — used in power plants — is diminishing. However the demand for metallurgical coal — used to make steel and cement — has remained steady. That’s feeding growth at some of B.C.’s largest mines, such as those in the Elk Valley. Canada is the world’s third-largest exporter of metallurgical coal after the U.S. and Australia.

In the spring of 2020, the Alberta government rolled back protections that had prevented open-pit coal mining across parts of the Rocky Mountains and Foothills since 1976. A new metallurgical coal mine, the Grassy Mountain project proposed near the Crowsnest Pass in Alberta, is currently going through a joint provincial-federal environmental review. If built, it could more than double production of steelmaking coal in Alberta.

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