Alberta’s coal power era comes to an end

The last coal power plant in Alberta has been converted to natural gas, marking a major shift in how the province is energized. #ableg #cdnpoli

By Sean Amato

Coal power is a thing of the past in Alberta.

The quiet end happened over the weekend when the Genesee plant west of Edmonton completed a conversion to natural gas.

Turning away from coal happened six years before a government deadline. The milestone marks a rapid reversal from roughly 20 years ago when coal-fired power accounted for 80 per cent of the province’s power grid.

“It’s a really substantial change,” said Blake Shaffer, a professor at the University of Calgary. “You really don’t have to go far back in time where people truly thought this was not going to be possible, or if it did, it would be catastrophic.”

Natural gas is king of the grid – at about 75 per cent of generation.

Shaffer says the change was spurred by an abundance of cheap gas and the former NDP government’s carbon tax.

“Many people said it’s impossible to phase out coal,” said Nagwan Al-Guneid, the Alberta NDP energy critic and Calgary-Glenmore MLA. “But here we are. Alberta succeeded in phasing out coal, while reducing emissions, while attracting billions of dollars in investments in renewables.”

The Genesee Generating Station, west of Edmonton, on June 18, 2024. (Sean Amato, CityNews)

Renewables like wind and solar provide about 20 per cent of Alberta’s electrical power, according to Shaffer. The opposition says it would be higher if the UCP didn’t bring in policies like a now-expired moratorium on green projects.

“We want to see the government work with industry to decarbonize our electricity grid faster,” Al-Guneid said.

In a statement, Alberta’s affordability and utilities minister, Nathan Neudorf, said the NDP’s coal phaseout was so fast it cost Albertans more than $2 billion because power generators had coal assets with remaining lifespan.

“Our government is continuing to modernize Alberta’s electricity grid by addressing issues such as economic withholding and transmission costs. Today is yet another milestone as we build a more reliable, affordable, and sustainable system for all Albertans,” he wrote.

After a winter of high power prices and grid alerts, Shaffer believes Alberta’s electrical system now has solid supply. And that’s good news for consumers.

“Going forward, we’re looking at an era of relatively low prices for the next several years,” he said.

The NDP also wants natural gas plants to use carbon capture to reduce emissions. Shaffer says the cost doesn’t typically add up for older plants like the Genesee, but it is possible that component is added to make new facilities cleaner in the future.

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