This report evaluates Alberta’s accelerated phase-out of coal-fired electricity against principles and lessons gleaned from the just transition literature.

In November 2015, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government announced its Climate Leadership Plan, which aimed to accelerate the transition away from coal power toward natural gas and renewable electricity generation. The plan also included a carbon levy on transportation and heating fuels, an oil sands emissions cap, a directive to increase renewable energy in the province from 9% of total power generation in 2015 to 30% by 2030, and the creation of Energy Efficiency Alberta. The target of 30% renewable energy by 2030 was subsequently legislated.

The Notley government’s climate plan targeted Alberta’s six youngest coal units (six units in three plants), which are the units not affected by the Harper government’s earlier regulations (the youngest of these coal units could have operated until 2061 according to the Harper regulations). In the last two years, the three firms that own these units have announced they will be converted to almost entirely gas-fired generation by the end of 2023. This will mean that the vast majority of Alberta’s coal-fired electricity capacity will be phased-out six years faster than the Trudeau government’s accelerated coal phase-out schedule.

Without deliberate and coordinated action, the workers and communities most dependent on fossil fuel extraction shoulder a disproportionate share of the challenges of the energy transition. Calls for a “just transition” are rooted in the understanding that an equitable climate policy agenda must dismantle existing social inequalities and prioritize the well-being of both workers and their communities.

A $40-million provincial transition fund—including bridge to re-employment grants, bridge to retirement grants, funds for moving expenses, tuition vouchers, career and employment consulting services, and multi-stakeholder workforce adjustment committees—was put in place to assist impacted workers as part of the phase-out. An additional $5 was committed by the province to help impacted coal communities make the transition.

Alberta’s (and Canada’s) coal phase-outs have catalyzed an important conversation of what constitutes a just transition and have provided on-the-ground examples of what has long been a mostly theoretical discussion.

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This report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project, which is jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC & Saskatchewan offices) and the Parkland Institute. This research was supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Author: Emma Jackson & Ian Hussey

Emma Jackson is a settler on Treaty 6 land, where she recently completed her MA in sociology at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include feminist political economy, transnational migration, and geographies of resource extraction. Emma has a degree in geography from Mount Allison University, and over four years experience as a student organizer with the Canadian fossil fuel divestment movement. She was a research assistant at Parkland Institute for the SSHRC-funded Corporate Mapping Project from September 2016 through December 2018.

Ian Hussey is a research manager at Parkland Institute. He is also a steering committee member and the Alberta research manager for the SSHRCC-funded Corporate Mapping Project. Before joining Parkland Institute, Ian worked for several international development organizations, including as the co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Fair Trade Network. Ian holds BA Honours degrees in Sociology and in English from Acadia University, an MA in Sociology from the University of Victoria, and his PhD courses and exams at York University focused on the sociology of colonialism and on political economy. His writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, New Political Economy, Edmonton Journal, National Observer, and The Tyee.