Prentice said two-thirds of the country's 51 current coal units should be retired by 2025.
"Our regulation will be very clear," said Prentice in announcing the regulations Wednesday. "When each coal-burning unit reaches the end of its economic life, it will have to meet the new standards or close down."
Prentice said the retired coal-fired plants would have to be replaced with low-emitting electricity such as clean coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, wind and tidal power.
Regulations covering new coal power plants would come into effect at the end of 2011.
"A responsible, clear phase-out of the electricity sector's inefficient coal-fired generation will allow ample time for the implementation of cleaner generation technologies. This will create new jobs in the clean-energy sector, while helping Canada meets its commitment to greenhouse gas reductions," Prentice said.
The phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity generation, along with coal closure commitments from provinces and companies, will reduce emissions by about 15 million tons, an amount equivalent to Canada taking about 3.2 million cars off its roads, the government said.
Under Ottawa's current international commitment, its emissions are supposed to fall to about 440 million tons by 2020.
Coal-fired plants make up 13 percent of Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions.
Steve Snyder, president and chief executive officer of TransAlta, said the power supplier sees opportunities to replace its oldest coal plants with a mix of natural gas generation, clean coal technology and renewable energy.
But he warned that Canada's transition must be done in a "careful and orderly fashion" to maintain the critical reliability of the country's electricity infrastructure.
Noting that coal accounts for more than 50 percent of current global electricity production, Roger Gibbins, president and chief executive of think tank the Canada West Foundation, said the United States, China and India are not likely to take coal out of their energy mix going forward.
"They will work for cleaner coal, but coal will not disappear from their energy strategies. Why should it for us?" Gibbins told the Calgary Herald.
Prentice also announced that Canada would provide $400 million this year for an international climate fund to help poor countries combat climate change, as negotiated at the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen last December.