Alberta power system in a state of change

March 23, 2018
Dave Mabell
Lethbridge Herald
[email protected]

Albertans will see plenty of change in their electrical power system over the next decade. As coal-fired generating plants are retired, natural gas thermal facilities will take their place.

Meanwhile wind, solar and other renewable resources will be developed to provide up to 30 per cent of the province’s power needs.

And a change in government isn’t likely to interrupt that process, the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs learned Thursday.

“A lot is changing now,” said Chris Hunt, the province’s utilities consumer advocate. And “there’s a lot in development.”

One of the major changes is already underway, as Alberta’s oldest coal-fired plants reach the end of their life. Energy officials say they’re creating about 39 per cent of the province’s energy now, but all will be retired by 2030.

Cleaner-burning natural gas now accounts for 17 per cent of our power generation, Hunt said, and with Alberta’s vast supply of gas that level could climb to 70 per cent. Private companies’ ongoing investment in new wind farms could see its contribution rise to about 30 per cent from its current level of nine per cent, he said.

In time, he told a questioner, Albertans could also see power come from the massive Site C hydro dam now being built west of Fort St. John for BC Hydro.

Nuclear power could be another option, he conceded – but Albertans apparently don’t want to consider it.

Hunt, named chief of the government’s Utilities Consumer Advocate’s office three years ago, said its mandate includes consumer education, legal intervention in industry hearings, and mediation for individuals and businesses who run into a dispute with their power retailer.

Rather than trying to get positive response from someone in a retailer’s overseas call centre, he said, Albertans can talk directly with a mediator at 310-4822 – no area code – to seek resolution. The mediators are handling about 2,000 cases each month, Hunt reported.

“They have a direct line to the companies’ head offices.”

In addition to the consumer help line, he said, recent government initiatives relating to the power system include promotion of energy-saving devices, incentives for businesses and industries that instal solar panels, and the transition to a power purchase mechanism that rewards on-demand peak capacity.

Businesses in Alberta and beyond are buying into these newer approaches, Hunt noted. He told a questioner today’s political parties know the risks involved if programs or policies were suddenly changed after an election.

“Parties of all stripes are very aware of the investor confidence factor.”

The Alberta system is rated at 16,423 megawatts, he said, while the highest demand, 11,458 MW, occurred n December 2016. The province’s energy experts calculate how much more power will be required in years to come, taking into account such changes as the transition to electric battery-powered vehicles.

Hunt suggested Albertans check his office’s website – – to learn more about the province’s power prospects.

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