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Alberta government made over half a billion dollars off pollution in 2020

Most of that was generated from pollution in coal power plants, bitumen extraction, and aggregate oil & gas facilities.

Earlier this month, Alberta Environment and Parks released their industrial greenhouse gas compliance report, which summarizes compliance with emissions regulations.

According to the document, there are 444 facilities in Alberta that are regulated and so must submit compliance reports. Of those, 21 had yet to file reports for 2020 by the end of last month.

When we add up all the emissions for the 423 facilities for which reports had been submitted, we get 153.9 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, which is all greenhouse gases weighted by their global-warming potential.

Over 70% of those emissions were reported in 4 sectors:

  • Bitumen in situ (wells)
  • Bitumen mining and upgrading
  • Coal power plants
  • Aggregated oil and gas

(An aggregate facility is a combination of conventional oil and gas facilities that are treated as a single facility.)

And nearly two-thirds of that 70% is bitumen extraction and upgrading.

Here are the ones you can’t see on the chart:

Forest products0.9%
Agroindustry0.3%
Food processing0.3%
Coal mines0.2%
Distilling0.0%
Landfill0.0%
Power plant – hydro0.0%
Power plant – wind0.0%

Collectively, they accounted for just 1.7% of all 2020 regulated emissions; although 4 of them—distilling, landfills, and hydro/wind power generation—technically didn’t account for any of them.

The report states that section 12 of the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation requires a facility’s net emissions stay below an allowable emissions threshold.

If net emissions end up under the threshold, then that facility qualifies to generate emission performance credits. On the other hand, if they end up above the threshold, then the facility owner must “submit” credits.

In the case of the former, polluters requested 6.3 megatonnes of emission performance credits. In contrast, polluters submitted 20.6 megatonnes of credits.

Submitting credits can happen in 3 ways:

  • Submitting emission offsets
  • Submitting emissions performance credits
  • Buy fund credits

Of the 20.6 megatonnes of submitted credits, 18.3 million were fund credits, 1.2 million were offsets, and 1 million were emission performance credits.

Here’s how they break down by sector:

The largest sectors submitting fund credits were coal power plants (11.8 million), bitumen in situ (3.4 million), and aggregated oil and gas (just under 2 million). All other sectors didn’t have to submit any or submitted less than 1 million.

Something readers should know is that there’s a cost to fund credits: $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalents. That means that the 18.3 million fund credits purchased by polluters end up providing nearly $550 million to the Alberta government, which then they used to fund the TIER programme.

The UCP government implemented TIER last January to replace the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation programme, which itself was introduced in 2018 by the NDP to replace the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation.

The CCIR applied to facilities that emitted at least 100,000 tonnes for greenhouse gases in 2003 or any year after. The TIER programme also applied to facilities emitting over 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, but only from 2016.

Here’s how the fund credit payments break down since 2007. Each amount is how much the Alberta government received from polluters each year from purchased fund credits.

The Alberta government uses TIER money to fund projects that reduce emissions, such as a biofuel facility announced in Lethbridge County this summer.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news stories, focusing on municipal, provincial, and federal politics, specializing in investigative journalism and critical analysis from a leftist political lens. He also writes regular editorials on general politics and social issues.

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