Calgary Herald

TransAlta positive on hydro amid shift from coal power

But CEO says new investment­s depend on energy market structure

- CHRIS VARCOE cvarcoe@calgaryher­ald.com

TransAlta Corp. CEO Dawn Farrell says her company is examining its hydroelect­ric options as Alberta moves to shift away from coal-fired power toward more renewable energy sources.

The head of the Calgary-based power company also said she isn’t concerned about a possible deal for the province to buy hydroelect­ricity from British Columbia while Alberta seeks an oil pipeline to the west coast.

At the company’s annual general meeting Friday, Farrell spoke about the impact of the NDP government’s decision to phase out emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2030, while the province wants renewables to make up 30 per cent of all generation.

Answering a shareholde­r’s question, Farrell noted the company is considerin­g its options for future hydroelect­ric projects in Alberta, but cautioned the work is in the early stages.

“We have dusted off all the plans that were set up actually in the early ’60s by the company to expand its hydro,” she said.

“We believe that hydro in Alberta — built in Alberta — is a very, very good option for what we’re looking at as we go forward to 2030.”

Coal-fired power made up 39 per cent of Alberta’s installed generation capacity last year, while hydro sat at just 5.5 per cent, according to provincial figures.

TransAlta has 27 hydro facilities — including 17 in Alberta — with a total capacity of 936 megawatts, some dating back more than a century.

The company also has a stake in five coal-fired power facilities in Alberta with a total capacity of 3,591 megawatts.

Compensati­on for closing some coal plants early is expected to be one of the key issues up for discussion between Alberta’s power producers and the province’s new negotiator Terry Boston.

Last month, the province appointed Boston — the retired head of one of North America’s largest power grid — to hold talks with plant owners and report back by fall.

Boston told the Herald last month he will deliver a list of options Alberta can implement to speed up the retirement of six coal-fired facilities that were initially scheduled to operate beyond 2030.

“Boston has completed initial meetings with the Alberta Electric System Operator and impacted stakeholde­rs,” Energy Minister Marg McCuaig- Boyd said in a statement.

“His contract is for six months and we fully expect his work to be completed within that time.”

Any future decisions to invest in power generation in Alberta will depend on the outcome of the negotiatio­ns and the structure of future energy market rules, Farrell said, noting initial discussion­s with Boston have been encouragin­g.

Farrell was also asked by reporters about the B.C. government’s attempts to sell surplus hydroelect­ricity to Alberta as it moves away from coal power.

The Notley government has said it will only consider this option if oil pipelines to the coast are built.

“I have hydro facilities here in Alberta that don’t require long distances of transmissi­on, that I think are more cost effective for the province,” Farrell added.

“As long as we’re given fair opportunit­y to present our options ... I’m fine. But I think I can beat that, just to be clear.”

Shares in TransAlta dipped 32 cents Friday to close at $6.29 in Toronto.

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