Federal net-zero electricity regulations will permit some natural gas power generation

OTTAWA - After facing pushback from Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada's draft net-zero electricity regulations — released today — will permit some natural gas power generation. 

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault released Ottawa's proposed Clean Electricity Regulations on Thursday.

Provinces and territories will have a minimum 75-day window to comment on the draft regulations. The final rules are intended to pave the way to a net-zero power grid in Canada by 2035. 

Calling the regulations "technology neutral," Guilbeault said the federal government believes there's enough flexibility to accommodate the different energy needs of Canada's diverse provinces and territories. 

"What we're talking about is not a fossil fuel-free grid by 2035; it's a net zero grid by 2035," Guilbeault said. 

"We understand there will be some fossil fuels remaining … but we're working to minimize those, and the fossil fuels that will be used in 2035 will have to comply with rigorous environmental and emission standards," he added. 

While non-emitting sources of electricity — hydroelectricity, wind, solar and nuclear —  should not have any issues complying with the regulations, natural gas plants will have to meet specific criteria.

Those operations, the government said, will need to emit the equivalent of 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour or less annually.

Federal officials said existing natural gas power plants could comply with that performance standard with the help of carbon capture and storage systems, which would be required to sequester 95 per cent of their emissions.

"In other words, it's achievable, and it is achievable by existing technology," said a government official speaking to reporters Thursday on background and not for attribution.

The regulations will also allow a certain level of natural gas power production without the need to capture emissions. Capturing emissions will be exempted during emergencies and peak periods when renewables cannot keep up with demand. 

Some newer plants might not have to comply with the rules until the 2040s, because the regulations apply to plants 20 years after they are commissioned. 

The two-decade grace period does not apply to plants that open after the regulations are expected to be finalized in 2025.


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