CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Environmental groups have launched a court action against Alberta's utility regulator, arguing it fast-tracked its approval of a coal-fired power plant so the operator could avoid upcoming carbon regulations.
Ecojustice and the Pembina Institute said on Tuesday they seek to appeal the Alberta Utilities Commission's June 30 interim decision granting Maxim Power Corp approval to build a 500-megawatt generating unit near Grand Cache in western Alberta.
The green groups said they aim to show the commission rushed its decision without considering all the evidence, as it did not conduct a public hearing.
It pointed out the AUC granted Maxim's request to get the green light by June 30, the latest date allowing the plant to be built by July 1, 2015. The company had said it received assurances from the federal environment minister that it could avoid new carbon rules if the plant was built by then.
"It's as if getting this project approved in advance of the federal coal regulations is somehow in the public interest," said Chris Severson-Baker, Pembina's managing director.
"It's really bizarre, not even having a hearing, not granting standing to appear before the AUC to groups like the Pembina Institute who have been working on these issues regarding coal-fired power plants for decades."
Last year, the Canadian government said it would force power producers to phase out older coal-fired power plants unless they can employ expensive technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and require new plants to match emissions from gas-fired facilities.
Pembina had sought intervenor status through individuals who live close to the HR Milner Generating Station. Maxim runs that 150-MW plant and the new unit would be at the same site.
The commission said the residents had informed it that they did not oppose the new plant.
The AUC noted in its decision that Maxim said the facility is required to make sure Alberta has enough electricity to meet demand.
It also mentioned Maxim's contentions that approval was necessary "to meet the expectations of private investors in the predictability of the regulator process."
A spokesman with the commission was not available for comment. A Maxim Power official said the company would not comment because the issue was before the court.
Maxim has said the plant will employ "state-of-the-art, supercritical, pulverized coal technology," which would make it the country's cleanest coal-fired facility. It aims to start construction next summer.
The case is Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development, applicant, and Alberta Utilities Commission and Maxim Power Corp, respondents, Appeal No. 1101-0193AC in the Court of Appeal of Alberta.
Editing by Peter Galloway