Transmission provider AltaLink says phaseout of coal in Alberta is achievable

AltaLink, Alberta’s largest electricity transmission provider, on Nov. 24 applauded the Alberta government on the Nov. 22 release of its Climate Leadership Plan, which outlines a goal to eliminate coal-fired generation and grow renewable energy production to 30% of Alberta’s needs by 2030.

“The greening of the electricity system through the elimination of coal and the growth of renewable energy is critical to Alberta’s future, both from an economic and environmental perspective,” said Scott Thon, president and CEO of AltaLink. “We have a tremendous opportunity in Alberta to make a step change away from coal generation and move to an economy powered by more zero- or low-emission generation sources.”

Thon added: “During the last five years, AltaLink has been investing in Alberta’s transmission system to ensure it provides reliable performance and enables our economy. Our transmission system will be ready to deliver on a renewable energy future for all Albertans.”

AltaLink’s parent company, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, has extensive experience in supporting jurisdictions as they have shifted their energy mix from high greenhouse gas-emitting plants to renewable sources without consumers bearing large cost increases. AltaLink is confident that learning from experience elsewhere will yield benefits in Alberta.

“In Iowa, where coal generation provided 70% of MidAmerican Energy‘s electricity generation as recently as 2000, 57% of their retail energy load could be powered by wind generation by the end of 2017,” said Thon. “We’re excited to bring that experience to our province to help Alberta be a leader in tackling climate change.”

MidAmerican Energy provides service to 746,000 electric customers and 726,000 natural gas customers in a 10,600-square mile area in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota and Nebraska. MidAmerican Energy is a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

AltaLink’s submission to the Climate Change Advisory Panel outlined a plan to quickly bring new renewable generation to Alberta without impacting the reliability of the system or cost to customers.

Headquartered in Calgary, AltaLink is Alberta’s largest electricity transmission provider. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, AltaLink is part of a global group of companies delivering electricity and utility services to customers worldwide.

Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan, announced Nov. 22, accelerates the transition from coal to renewable electricity sources, puts a price on carbon pollution, and sets emissions limits for the oil sands industry, a backbone of the provincial economy. Other measures include broad programs to improve energy efficiency, support green technological innovations, reduce methane, and provides supports to ensure that families and small businesses are protected.

“Responding to climate change is about doing what’s right for future generations of Albertans – protecting our jobs, health and the environment. It will help us access new markets for our energy products, and diversify our economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency technology. Alberta is showing leadership on one of the world’s biggest problems, and doing our part,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Alberta said it will phase out all pollution created by burning coal and transition to more renewable energy and natural gas generation by 2030. Three principles will shape the coal phase-out: maintaining reliability; providing reasonable stability in prices to consumers and business; and, ensuring that capital is not unnecessarily stranded. Two-thirds of coal-generated electricity will be replaced by renewables – primarily wind power – while natural gas generation will continue to provide firm baseload reliability. Renewable energy sources will comprise up to 30% of Alberta’s electricity production by 2030.

Alberta will phase in carbon pricing in two steps:

  • C$20/tonne economy-wide in January 2017; and
  • C$30/tonne economy-wide in January 2018.

An overall oil sands emission limit of 100 megatonnes will be set, with provisions for new upgrading and co-generation.

Said a Nov. 20 report to Notley on which the carbon plan is based: “Alberta generates much of its electricity from coal. In fact, Alberta currently has the highest rate of coal-fired electricity of any province. Though a cheap source of power, coal-fired electricity contributes not only to greenhouse gas emissions, but also affects air quality and directly impacts the health of Albertans.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.