CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada's government finalized much-anticipated regulations on Wednesday for phasing out the country's old coal-fired power plants in a move critics condemned as a watering down of earlier proposals to cut carbon emissions.
Under rules to take effect on July 1, 2015, generating units commissioned before 1975 will reach the end of their operations after 50 years or by the end of 2019, whichever is earlier, federal Environment Minister Peter Kent said.
Units commissioned after 1975 but before 1986 will reach their end of life after 50 years or the end of 2029, whichever is earlier, Kent said.
Under draft rules released last year, the old plants were to have been given 45-year limits.
For new coal-fired plants, the government will enforce a performance standard of 420 metric tons of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour, which is the same as for high-efficiency natural gas-fired and renewable generators, he said.
Kent described the regulations as tough, but allowing for economic growth and job creation.
The Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank, said the new rules would be only half as effective over the first decade compared with the initial proposals.
"Major changes to the draft rules will allow the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in Canada to run for up to half of a century from commissioning without any limits to their climate pollution. When these standards do apply, they will be weaker than originally proposed," Pembina said in a statement.
"These changes mean Canada has gone from moving at a tortoise's pace to a snail's pace when it comes to regulating coal."
The opposition New Democratic Party said it will take decades for the moves to have any impact of emissions.
With these weak regulations ... Kent is demonstrating yet again how Conservatives listen only to industry and refuse to take climate change seriously," NDP Environment Critic Megan Leslie said.
Kent said the regulations will mean a reduction of 214 megatonnes of emissions, or the same as removing 2.6 million personal vehicles from the road annually. Coal-fired power currently accounts for 11 percent of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Gunna Dickson)