The Electrical Worker online
May 2016

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Trudeau Pledges Carbon Cuts,
Urged to Keep Focus on Grid Stability

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose Washington, D.C., in March for his first official state visit since the Liberal Party's landslide October election, observers hoped it would mark the return of a friendlier, more cooperative relationship between the two neighboring nations.

For the last several years under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government, numerous issues had created a somewhat strained, businesslike arrangement between the North American powers.

In Washington, Trudeau and President Barack Obama pledged to "play a leadership role internationally in the low-carbon global economy over the coming decades," setting specific goals for reducing methane emissions from oil and gas drilling by 2025 and agreeing to work together toward the long-term preservation of the Arctic. The two also vowed to move more quickly to implement standards agreed to at the United Nations Paris climate talks last year.

For IBEW members in both countries, however, talk of severely reducing carbon emissions presents an obstacle to grid stability and good-paying jobs. In Alberta, where about 60 percent of energy generation comes from coal, the Paris Climate Agreement goals would likely force the closure of six coal plants by 2030.

Calgary, Alberta, Local 254 represents about 350 members at several of those plants, but Business Manager John Briegel also recognizes the importance of climate change and the need to address it.

"Obviously, these issues are front and center right now," he said, "but we have to make sure that hard-working people in Canada aren't forgotten about while we try to reduce carbon emissions."

In Alberta, provincial government leaders have said they'll find a way to look after people and communities hurt by inevitable coal plant closures, but so far, they've only appointed a facilitator to protect the investments of the power companies. "We're hopeful that they'll do the same for the communities and the workforce," Briegel said. "It's naive to think we'll stop the government's course of action, but we can all work together to protect the working people who are going to be affected."

IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter, who attended the climate talks in Paris last year, met in February in Toronto with First District leaders and affected locals, who collectively represent more than 1,000 members who could be impacted by coal plant closures. The group discussed the implications of Trudeau's renewed push on carbon emissions and strategized on how to best protect power grid reliability and IBEW members as specific changes are decided.

Coal plants, Hunter said, aren't an issue in every province, but they are critical to providing steady baseload power, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan. "It's easy for lawmakers to say, 'Let's close these polluting plants,'" he said, "but it's a lot harder question to figure out how we're going to replace the critical power they supply. We're committed to helping Canada figure out how to do it, same as we are in the U.S."

Just as important for First District Vice President Bill Daniels are the new jobs that will need to be created for IBEW members and communities where coal plants are slated to close.

Some of those new jobs will come from work on renewable sources of electricity like wind and solar, but those alone aren't reliable enough to replace critical baseload power. For that, energy companies will need to rely on cleaner sources like natural gas, hydroelectric or zero-emissions nuclear.

"As Canada moves to greener sources of energy, it will give us a chance to showcase the talents and skills of IBEW electricians in those fields," said Daniels, pointing to recognized photovoltaic and electric vehicle infrastructure training programs developed by the National Electrical Trade Council, a joint union-contractor organization that creates and promotes new technology training for Canada's electrical industry.

"We're ready for the jobs of the future," Daniels said of the 70,000 IBEW members in Canada, "but we expect that both the federal and provincial governments will work with us as they move further along the path to cleaner energy sources."


The Genessee Power Station, 40 miles southwest of Edmonton, Alberta, is one of Canada's cleanest coal plants. Still, it is scheduled to be shuttered by 2030 to meet the province's new carbon rules.