Task Force releases findings on coal communities

Nearly nine months after their visit to the Energy City, the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities has released its final report.

The report was published on Monday afternoon. Hassan Yusseff, who chaired the task force, said the most important part is to treat communities affected by the coal phase-out differently. Some areas could try to convert their coal-fired generating stations to natural gas, while provinces like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia don’t have access to gas.

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In the case of Estevan, the presence of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at the Boundary Dam Power Station makes it different than the other affected communities.

“When you meet with the workers, they’re very proud of the technology, but equally so, what we did hear from SaskPower is that in order to maintain this technology, a lot of things that are riding on it,” said Yussuff.

They also heard concern from workers about what would happen once coal can’t be utilized any longer, or what they would do once units at Boundary Dam reached their life expectancy.

“They did certainly indicate that they would have to look at how they can get gas to those facilities and try to convert them,” said Yussuff.

In a place like Coronach, which is more isolated and smaller than Estevan, there was a lot of concern in the community as to what might replace jobs lost in the coal phase-out.

“The recognition might be that some of those people might have to move if they want to do something with their lives, and aren’t old enough to retire,” said Yussuff.

It calls to embed just transition principles in planning, legislative, regulatory, and advisory processes to ensure ongoing and concrete actions throughout the coal phase-out transition with a just transition plan for the coal phase-out; include provisions in federal environmental and labour legislation and regulations; and establish a targeted, long-term research fund for studying the impact of the coal phase-out and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Locally available supports will be through funding the establishment and operation of locally-driven transition centres in affected coal communities. A pension-bridging program will be created for workers who will retire earlier than planned due to the coal phase out.

A detailed and publicly available inventory will be created with labour market information pertaining to coal workers, such as skills profiles, demographics, locations, and current and potential employers; and a comprehensive funding program will be established for workers staying in the labour market to address their needs across the stages of securing a new job, including income support, education and skills building, re-employment, and mobility.

The task force calls on the federal government to invest in community infrastructure by identifying, prioritizing, and funding local infrastructure projects in affected communities.

Finally, they want the government to establish a dedicated, comprehensive, inclusive and flexible just transition funding program for affected communities, and meet directly with affected communities to learn about their local priorities, and to connect them with federal programs that could support their goals.

The federal government has called for a phase-out of conventional coal-fired electricity by 2030, but coal-fired power plants will open beyond 2030 if carbon capture and storage is involved.

While there is money to support those who decide to seek new employment in new industries, which would force them to relocate, there is also money for those who want to remain in a community.

“We did recognize that not everybody will want the same options. Some would want to move, and some would want to remain in their communities. And for a variety of reasons, some may decide they’re close to retirement, so if they can bridge or retire within the time frame the phase-out would happen, they would prefer to stay there,” said Yussuff.

Most of the workers they talked to, particularly the older ones, would prefer to stay in their community.

Communities that lose coal mining and coal-fired generation will lose those well-paying jobs, which would create indirect impacts, so the task force believes there should be a community fund that can be used to attract other industries.

“We did hear a lot about that,” said Yussuff. “As we travelled to many communities, there are already efforts that have been made to get a position for new employment that could replace the … coal mining side.”

Those communities hoped that if they could access funds, it would help them a lot.

When the government created the task force, Yussuff said there was a $36 million fund to look at how it could help the communities. Out of that fund, they announced two transition centres would be set up in Alberta, since that province is further along in the coal phase-out process.

“As those other provinces start to think about the timeframe they are working towards, they might also want to end up establishing transition centres to help the workers and the community figure out how they will deal with that,” said Yussuff.

The committee did not project what the total cost would be for the phase-out. Those who retire wouldn’t need as much money as those who will move into a new career.

“Certainly for a community, if they’re losing that investment, the bigger challenge is going to be what replaces that,” said Yussuff.

Task Force members were in southern Saskatchewan in mid-June 2018 to listen to the concerns of a variety of ratepayers. They also listened to presentations and answered questions during a town hall in Estevan.

Since that time, Yussuff said they have continued to meet with people to discuss the coal phase-out.

“Essentially it is one report, but there was a request of the government to get an interim report in for late October or early November,” said Yussuff.

The interim report was not only a chance to release initial findings, but to give the federal government an idea of expenses they would have to start looking at for their budget.

After that report was submitted, the final report was filed in December and released publicly this week.

“Our report was unanimous. There wasn’t any kind of dissent or disagreement among the folks on the task force.”

© Copyright Estevan Mercury

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