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TransAlta completes conversion from coal to natural gas power in Canada

TransAlta will also close its Highvale thermal coal mine
A pedestrian walks past the TransAlta building in downtown Calgary, Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A major Canadian electricity producer is successfully off coal power in this country, nine years ahead of a government deadline.

Calgary-based Trans-Alta Corp. announced Wednesday it has finished its planned transition from coal to natural gas in its Canadian power generation.

The company said the recently completed conversion of the Keephills Unit 3 power plant west of Edmonton was the last of three coal-to-gas conversions at its Alberta thermal power generation facilities.

In a news release, TransAlta president and chief executive John Kousinioris said the company has achieved a significant milestone well ahead of the federal mandate that will require the full phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation in Canada by 2030.

“We are pleased to have completed this important step, nine years ahead of the government target,” Kousinioris said. “Our coal transition is among the most meaningful carbon emissions reduction achievements in Canadian history.”

Since 2019, TransAlta says it has invested $295 million into its coal-to-gas program, which also included the conversion of Sundance Unit 6 and Keephills Unit 2 near Wabuman, Alta., and Sheerness Units 1 and 2 near Hanna, Alta., plus the construction of new high-volume gas delivery infrastructure.

Converting to natural gas from coal maintains the company’s current generation capacity while at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions by almost 50 per cent, the company said.

As of Friday, TransAlta will also close its Highvale thermal coal mine, which is the largest in Canada and has been in operation on the south shore of Wabamun Lake west of Edmonton, since 1970.

TransAlta’s move away from coal is a major milestone in Alberta, which has been working to reduce its reliance on coal for power generation.

In 2014, 55 per cent of Alberta’s electricity was produced from coal. The province, under then-premier Rachel Notley, announced in 2015 — three years ahead of the federal government’s own coal mandate — that it would eliminate emissions from coal-powered generation by 2030.

In addition to TransAlta, other Alberta-based companies have also made major utility conversion commitments. Edmonton-based Capital Power Corp. has said it will spend nearly $1 billion to switch two coal-fired power units west of Edmonton to natural gas, and will stop using coal entirely by 2023.

TransAlta said that overall, it has retired 3,794 megawatts of coal-fired generation since 2018. The company still operates the Centralia coal-fired power plant in Washington State, which is set to shut down at the end of 2025.

TransAlta said that it is on track to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, or 19.7 million tonnes, by 2030 over 2015 levels and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press