Non-Renewable Energy Resources: Coal

Coal is one of the most abundant fossil fuels in the world and can be found in 70 countries, with Canada’s coal deposits ranking 13th largest in the world. More specifically, about 85% of all Canadian coal deposits are located in Alberta and British Columbia.[1]

The essential ingredient in coal is carbon. This carbon was squeezed from vegetation that was buried beneath soil millions of years ago through natural processes which subsequently compressed and heated up, essentially cooking the carbon and creating coal.[2] Although Aboriginal peoples in the province would have been aware of coal deposits for thousands of years, major commercial coal exploitation as we know it today, did not begin until the late 1700s/early 1800s, with the arrival of European settlers. The use of coal picked up with the Canadian Pacific Railway and the first large-scale coal mine in Alberta, the Galt mine, opened in 1882.[3]

In 2016, only 9 coal mines and 18 coal-fired electricity generators remained.[4] However, they still produce nearly half of Alberta’s electricity.[5]

This may be changing. There is new focus on legislation to phase out coal-fired generators and replace them with renewable energy and the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) is one of the quasi government branches primarily responsible for this transition. The AER is responsible for making decisions about future coal projects, including whether to keep existing projects and whether to build any new ones. Currently, the AER predicts that thermal coal production is projected to decline 50% between 2016 and 2026, in large part due to new environmental regulations.[6] Coal production will be affected in particular by those projects that work to green the grid or get Albertan electricity from somewhere other than coal.[7]

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[1] Natural Resources Canada, “Coal” (11 September 2018) Government of Canada online:

[2] Alberta Culture & Tourism, “Global Coal Formation” Government of Alberta online:

[3] Alberta Culture and Tourism, “Alberta’s First Coal Mining Community” (2018) Government of Alberta online:

[4] Alberta Open Data, “Phase-out of coal-fired emissions in Alberta” Government of Alberta online:

[5] Alberta Open Data, “Phase-out of coal-fired emissions in Alberta”.

[6] Alberta Energy Regulator, “Coal Supply/Demand” (July 2017) online:  

[7] Wallis Snowden, “Leduc No. 1: Seven decades ago, a single oil well changed Alberta history” (13 February 2017) CBC News online:




Energy Law

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections


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