Power companies want to choose fuel sources

By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal

May 28, 2014
EDMONTON – Alberta’s big power companies say they are already reducing their carbon emissions by shifting to cleaner natural gas and are adamantly opposed to any policies that encourage specific renewable technologies.

“We believe in the need to reduce emissions but in a manner consistent with market,” said Evan Bahry of the Independent Power Producers Society of Alberta, which includes big players like Capital Power, TransAlta and Shell.

Bahry was responding to a new report that says Alberta could cut its carbon emissions almost by half and improve its international reputation by shutting down its 19 coal-fired electricity plants. They produce almost as much greenhouse gases as the oilsands.

But the transition over 20 years to a mix of renewables including wind, solar, and some natural gas would require government policy tools to kick-start the renewable industry says the report written jointly by the Pembina Institute and Clean Energy Canada, a Vancouver based think-tank working for a low-carbon future.

Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin says the phase-out of coal would be possible if hydro power is added to Alberta’s mix of electricity production.

“The people who are making money off coal won’t give it up,” said Anglin.

“But there’s another factor here — if we don’t improve our environmental record, we won’t get access to international markets for our bitumen and we won’t grow,” said Anglin.

“And we can’t just keep making up statements about our great environmental record when the facts don’t back it up.”

Alberta is the only province without a renewable energy strategy. The provincial government has promised to release one this year.

The province’s big electricity companies in IPPSA are opposed to “any policy tool to force promotion of one type of fuel source over another,” Bahry stressed.

Already some old coal plants are being replaced with three natural gas plants in the Edmonton area as the industry responds to market signals of abundant cheap natural gas, he said.

Wind power is not economically viable in this market, he said.

Marlo Raynolds, vice-president of BluEarth Renewables, which operates wind farms, disagreed.

Wind provides the cheapest power to consumers because there is no ongoing fuel costs — that’s why existing power plants don’t like it, he said.

“When wind power goes on the grid, the pool price goes down and it goes down for everyone, coal and gas,” said Raynolds.

“We can’t compete because it’s not in their best interest to have power with zero-cost fuel in the mix.”

What the wind industry needs is long-term power purchase agreements from a big customer to raise capital for construction.

Raynolds says he has suggested a more generic tool to encourage renewables.

Government could put a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from all conventional power plants. Those companies could then choose how to meet the limit by building wind, solar or gas, he said.

Ontario closed its last coal plant this year.

Bahry warned in his release that climate-change policies done poorly could deter investment in new plants and raise costs to consumers.

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Original source article: Power companies want to choose fuel sources