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A dragline works in coal pits in front of the SaskPower Shand Power Station on Tuesday, March 19, 2008 south of Estevan, Saskatchewan. Canadians use more energy per person than in any other of the world's 20 biggest economies.

Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press

Trevor Schnell tries to stay positive, but it’s hard.

As mayor of Coronach, a tiny southern Saskatchewan town near a power station and a coal mine, he estimates more than 50 houses are up for sale and people are leaving.

Coal and power are what drive the community, he says, and with the planned phaseout of traditional coal, the town doesn’t have much of a future.

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About half of its 600 residents will be affected by the impending shutdown, he says.

“It’s tough.”

Schnell was on hand Friday as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe made good on a promise in last fall’s throne speech to inject $10 million into coal communities in the area to help them diversify and find economic development opportunities.

Coronach is to get $2 million and $8 million is earmarked for the city of Estevan

“This is a commitment to engage with the community to work through these next few years,” Moe said.

He said the money could be used to retrain workers for other industries. It could also be used for business development in consultation with local groups.

Moe said federal incentives for Estevan’s carbon capture and storage facility would also help the area’s economy.

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The two municipalities are expected to partner with neighbouring communities in regional initiatives.

Federal regulations stipulate all coal-fired power stations must be decommissioned by 2030 or after 50 years of operation, whichever comes first.

The Saskatchewan government says the change will affect three power stations, several mines and hundreds of jobs in the southeast.

The regulations were imposed on the province earlier than planned, Moe said, but he added the government is working hard to ensure communities can successfully move to cleaner energy sources and new business developments.

Schnell said he’s hoping the money will help Coronach attract new business.

Roy Ludwig works in the coal industry and is also mayor of Estevan. He said he believes the federal government should provide money as well to help affected workers train and transition to new jobs.

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“With the carbon tax they put in place, with the fact that they feel that coal is black so therefore ‘we can’t use it, it’s dirty’ … we feel that their responsibility should be like pension-bridging,” Ludwig said.

The federal Department of Natural Resources said in an email that a task force was struck to help the transition for coal power workers and all of its recommendations were welcomed.

Officials said the 2018 budget provided an initial $35 million for skills development and economic diversification activities in affected communities.

Another $150 million was in the Budget 2019 to create an infrastructure fund, starting in 2020-21, to support priority projects and economic diversification in those communities, according to the federal department.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020

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