TransAlta admits to manipulating electricity prices

Alberta's premier says they should review the entire electrical industry after one of the province's largest power companies admitted to manipulating electricity imports last fall, which drove up consumer prices.

Alberta's premier says the province should review the entire electrical industry

Premier Alison Redford skirted around questions Tuesday on whether surveillance on the electrical industry should be tighter.

TransAlta Corp. admits it manipulated electricity imports last fall which drove up consumer prices, meaning consumers had to pay an extra $5.5 million for power.

It's alleged TransAlta blocked the import of cheaper power from B.C.

The admission was filed in a document from TransAlta to the Alberta Utilities Commission.

In the agreed statement of facts, TransAlta says it broke the Alberta Utilities Act last November and is offering to pay $370,000 in penalties.

The commission says it's looking into a series of market trades and will determine if the penalties proposed are adequate.

The Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta (IPCAA) says the fine isn't enough because of the large amount of extra costs passed on to consumers.

"I think it should be equal to whatever the consequence was directly to consumers that were taking energy during those hours," said Sheldon Fulton of IPCAA, an industry consumer group. "That information is available ... if that was 60 per cent of the consumers in the province it’s 60 per cent of $5 million, so it’s a $3 million fine, but the fine should be set on the impact of the ratepayer."

Opposition parties call for tougher penalties

Redford says this case shows the systems in place to catch this sort of thing are working.

She said Alberta needs to take an in-depth look at the electrical industry — including the costs to consumers and what future surveillance looks like.

"As we move forward with respect to what transmission looks like — how we build a grid, how we bring other costs onto that grid, whether we're talking about sustainables, renewables, all of that — I think we come back and we revisit again that whole piece," said Redford.

But the Alberta Liberals are saying there should be tougher penalties and a closer look at whether this was an isolated incident.

Along with Alberta’s Wildrose Party, the Liberals are calling for better consumer protection when it comes to electricity prices.

The Liberals said a $370,000 fine is a slap on the wrist.

TransAlta officials called it an error and misunderstanding of new guidelines.

Calgary’s electrical utility Enmax said it’s a serious matter under investigation.

"We have full confidence in the market surveillance administrator and the Alberta Utilities Commission that they will get to the bottom of this matter," said Enmax spokesperson Doris Kaufmann.

With files from The Canadian Press