Press release

New study highlights need to rethink "cheap" power

August 18, 2003

Air pollution from burning coal has health and climate impacts not accounted for in the price

WINNIPEG — The impacts on air quality, climate and human health from coal burning power plants amount to $1.8 billion a year, and are not accounted for in the price consumers pay for electricity, concludes a new study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The report, The Full Costs of Thermal Power Production in Eastern Canada, is the first to quantify the health impacts, air quality and climate change externalities associated with electricity produced from fossil fuels across Eastern Canada.

The study traced the passage of pollutants from the electricity sector to their impacts on people. The costs of the increased risks of mortality, chronic respiratory disease and child bronchitis as well as increased respiratory and cardiac hospital admissions, emergency room visits and degraded quality of life due to air pollution were calculated to total $700 million a year (1996 dollars) in Eastern Canada alone.

Additionally, the impacts on global climate change as a result of electricity generation from fossil fuels in Eastern Canada are estimated to be $1.1 billion a year.

"We need to think about how we produce our energy and how we can restructure our energy supply system so that the full costs of our choices are reflected," said Stephan Barg, co-author of the report and Senior Corporate Advisor at the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.

"Ontario, in particular, is at a critical crossroads in determining how to meet future electricity needs, how to meet Kyoto commitments and how to secure future energy supplies," he added.

Coal produces mercury, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide when burned which makes it a particularly severe source of air pollutants.

"Using other energy sources such as solar, natural gas or wind may not seem so expensive when compared to the full costs of so-called cheap coal," said the report's co-author Henry David Venema, Research Associate at IISD. "Our domestic emissions would be less and we wouldn't have to buy emission credits on the international market."

"There is this illusory notion out there that coal is cheap," he added. It isn't. It affects our health, our air quality and our quality of life."

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.