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A section of the eastern slopes southwest of Longview, Alta., on June 16. Energy Minister Sonya Savage says she has received the final report with recommendations on how Alberta should manage coal development.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta is one step closer to new coal-mining rules for the province.

Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Wednesday she has received the final report from a committee charged with making recommendations about how the province should manage coal development. Ms. Savage struck the independent committee earlier this year after widespread public backlash about the United Conservative government’s decision to rip up Alberta’s 1976 coal policy, making it easier for companies to pursue mines in sensitive regions.

Anger over the move forced the government to backpedal. It reinstated the policy, cancelled 11 coal leases and promised to consult with Albertans to come up with a new coal-mining plan – which led to the committee’s creation.

Ms. Savage said in a statement that the government will now “take the necessary time” to review the report and its recommendations before releasing them publicly.

Her press secretary, Jennifer Henshaw, told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail that the Ministry of Energy will work with other departments and agencies to determine the government’s next steps. Ms. Henshaw said the committee’s report and recommendations will be released “as soon as possible” once the committee’s findings – which include eight main recommendations – have been thoroughly reviewed.

The government’s next steps will likely draw close scrutiny from Albertans and environmental groups opposed to coal mines in sensitive lands, particularly near crucial headwaters on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.

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Opposition NDP environment critic Marlin Schmidt said in a statement Wednesday that the government should release the Coal Policy Committee’s findings immediately, rather than sitting on them into the new year.

“There is zero reason to hold this report hostage from Albertans. It’s ready now, and refusing to release it to the public is just another game being played by the UCP,” he said. “Enough obstruction.”

The coal committee’s work was originally due on Ms. Savage’s desk by mid-November, but she granted an extension citing the “extraordinary volume, breadth and depth of the input provided by Albertans.”

During its work, the committee met with representatives from Indigenous communities and their organizations, municipalities, unions, coal companies and their associations, and other interest groups and non-profits. It also extended consultations two months longer than originally planned, because of the high level of public interest.

In total, it received more than 1,170 e-mailed and written submissions, along with materials from 67 stakeholder meetings.

The end of the committee’s work came the same day that Calgary-based TransAlta Corp. announced that it had completed the last of three planned coal-to-gas conversions at its Alberta thermal power generation facilities near the hamlet of Wabamun.

President and chief executive of the company, John Kousinioris, said in a statement Wednesday that the full conversion of Keephills Unit 3 from thermal coal to natural gas – nine years ahead of the government’s phaseout target timeline – was a “significant milestone for TransAlta in its transition off coal.”

Converting to natural gas from coal reduces TransAlta’s carbon-dioxide emissions by nearly 50 per cent, Mr. Kousinioris said.

The completion of the Keephills conversion and the planned closing of the Highvale coal mine on Dec. 31 means TransAlta’s thermal power facilities in Alberta will have been fully transitioned to 100-per-cent natural gas operation by the end of the year.

TransAlta has spent $295-million in its coal-to-gas conversion program since 2019. That work has included the conversion of various units at its Sundance, Keephills and Sheerness plants, and construction of new high-volume gas delivery infrastructure.

The company wants to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2030 (from 2015 levels), and hit carbon neutrality by 2050.

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