TransAlta power manipulation ruling shows system flawed, critics say
Watchdog says consumers paid 10% to 60% more for power
A consumer group says a decision that TransAlta knowingly boosted power prices shows fundamental flaws in the system that provides electricity to Albertans.
The Market Surveillance Administrator (MSA) alleged Canada's largest investor-owned power producer and wholesale marketer manipulated the electricity market by shutting down power plants in 2010 and 2011 to drive up power costs during periods when demand was high.
Earlier this week, the Alberta Utilities Commission agreed.
"The findings were that they were essentially manipulating market outcome to their own benefit," commission spokesman Jim Law said.
The MSA said TransAlta's profit during the shutdowns was $16 million and that consumers paid between 10 per cent and 60 per cent more for their power.
Jim Wachowich of the Consumers' Coalition of Alberta said deregulation has created problems.
"So what we've got now is a finding from the utilities commission, an expert commission, as well as a complaint by the Market Surveillance Administrator, that has shown the market did have a problem," he said.
This is not the first time TransAlta, which is based in Calgary, has been in hot water over price fixing.
Last year, it paid a nearly $150-million settlement after allegations were raised that it manipulated the electricity and natural gas markets during California's energy crisis 15 years ago.
And in 2011 the company admitted it had manipulated electricity imports, driving up prices so that consumers had to pay an extra $5.5 million for power.
Don MacIntyre, the Wildrose Party's critic for electricity and renewables, said there needs to be stronger oversight of the system.
"Wildrose has been sounding the alarm about consumers being gouged by a broken electricity system for years now," MacIntyre said in release.
He said the government should have realized something was wrong and taken immediate action.
Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd says it's possible the industry rules need to be clearer.
"You and I pay our bills and we hope that we're paying a reasonable rate. So, a little surprised and concerned that there may have been something, you know, not proper," she said.
"And so we're going to watch the process, let it unfold and, you know, when we get the final report, if there's changes to be made we will be making them."
The commission could fine TransAlta up to $1 million for each day it shut down a power plant.
Law said many considerations will factor in to the penalty. "What was the harm? Was it broad, was it narrow, was it deliberate?"
TransAlta said it might appeal the decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal.