Canada: Alberta’s last coal plant has powered down and is not expected to burn another lump

‘I suspect that’s it,’ says University of Calgary electricity expert. ‘The end of coal power in Alberta.’

Capital Power plans to turn its Genesee Generation Station, located 70 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, into a facility that produces carbon nanotubes from the CO2 in its emissions.

Unit 2 at the Genesee Generating Station west of Edmonton was the last remaining electricity-generation facility in Alberta to rely exclusively on coal.

It appears Alberta’s coal era has come to an end. Capital Power’s Genesee 2 facility — the last dedicated coal plant in the province — went offline at 10:57 p.m. Sunday. And, according to the latest forecast from the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), it’s not expected to come back online. Capital Power did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, but it has previously said it plans to convert the facility from coal to natural gas in 2024, like it has already done with its other coal plants.

“Given this was around the time they previously stated it would be fully converted to gas, I suspect that’s it. The end of coal power in Alberta,” said Blake Shaffer, an economist with the University of Calgary who specializes in electricity markets. If confirmed, it’s a notable milestone, as Alberta used to rely on coal for the majority of its power.

Back in 2001, coal accounted for as much as 80 per cent of the electricity on the province’s grid, according to Scott MacDougall, director of the electricity program at the Pembina Institute, a green-energy think tank.

“While Alberta’s last coal plant has yet to be confirmed as repowered, the fact the province is now forecasting to operate a coal-free grid this week and for the coming months indicates the province is well on its way to achieving its goal of phasing out coal,” he said in a release.
In 2015, under then NDP premier Rachel Notley, the Alberta government announced plans to completely phase out coal power by 2030. Critics questioned whether it could be done. “The industry was up in arms that it wasn’t possible,” Shaffer previously told CBC News. “Even parts of the government were in disbelief. I think there was a general view that phasing out by 2030 would actually be very challenging, and yet here we are.”

The phaseout ended up proceeding well ahead of schedule, in large part due to natural gas taking over much of the generation.

Electricity generated from natural gas puts out roughly half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as compared with coal.

“In addition, overall water usage for the repowered units will be reduced with the new technology by at least half,” Capital Power notes on its website.

One ‘dual fuel’ plant remains
Shaffer noted there is still one “dual fuel” plant in Alberta — Capital Power’s Genesee 3 unit — which can burn both natural gas and coal.

“So if you want to be really technical, there’s potential that coal is being burnt out there; we don’t know,” he previously told CBC News. “But really it’s more than likely to be using gas. It may be depleting some stockpiles of coal that it has sitting there, but they’re certainly not mining any more coal specifically for that plant.”

MacDougall, with the Pembina Institute, says Alberta’s experience with phasing out coal offers “a good reminder of the importance of good policy design with target dates.” “Establishing a coal phaseout timeline provided certainty for industry and stakeholders and allowed for efficient investment decisions aligned with phasing out coal,” he said. “It also offers a case study for the remaining coal jurisdictions around the world.”