CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada moved ahead on Friday with new regulations for cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants as environmental groups decried one project that they said won a speedy approval just in time to avoid the tighter rules.
Environment Minister Peter Kent said the regulations, aimed at gradually phasing out coal-fired power generation as a way to meet the federal government's greenhouse gas commitments, will force developers to reduce emissions to levels that are comparable to high-efficiency gas-fired plants.
That means new coal-fired plants will have to employ expensive, nascent technology, such as carbon capture and storage.
"We are taking action in the electricity sector because we recognize the potential for significant emissions reductions," Kent said in a statement. "We are committed to build on our strength in the electricity sector and to lead the world in clean electricity generation."
The regulations will be published on August 27, which will start a 60-day public comment period. Final rules are scheduled to come into effect on July 1, 2015.
This month, environmental groups launched a court action against Alberta's utility regulator, arguing it fast-tracked approval of a coal-fired plant proposed by Maxim Power Corp so the company could avoid the new regulations.
In their action, the Pembina Institute and Ecojustice said Maxim had said it received assurances from the federal environment ministry that it could avoid the new rules if the 500 megawatt plant was built before July 1, 2015.
Kent's department said the new regulations, when combined with other federal and provincial rules, are expected to result in an absolute drop of 31 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from power generation between 2005 and 2020.
The Conservative government has set a goal of cutting Canada's emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, a less stringent target than Ottawa had earlier committed to under the Kyoto Accord.
That would mean a reduction of 124 megatonnes at a time when production from the country's oil sands -- which emits more carbon dioxide than conventional crude production -- is expected to double.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Rob Wilson)