TransAlta speeding transition from coal to gas at Edmonton-area power plants

TransAlta is accelerating plans to convert coal-fired power plants to natural gas.

Sundance and Keephills generating units to be converted from coal to gas between 2021 and 2023

TransAlta is accelerating plans to convert coal-fired power plants near Edmonton to gas. (CBC)

TransAlta is accelerating plans to convert its coal-fired power plants to gas.

"The company is taking steps today that will position us as a leader in clean power generation and improve our competitive position as we consider a future where carbon is a high cost input to power generation," said Dawn Farrell, president and chief executive officer, in a news release Thursday.

The plan moves ahead conversion dates for the company's Sundance and Keephills electricity generating units near Wabamun Lake west of Edmonton.

Sundance Units 3 to 6 and Keephills Units 1 and 2 will be converted from coal-fired generation to gas-fired generation between 2021 and 2023.

Converting the units will extend their lives from the 2020s to the mid-2030s, the company said.

TransAlta will begin immediately taking steps to secure the gas supply required for the converted units and the construction of the required pipeline.

The strategy will also see Sundance Unit 1 retired by Jan. 1, 2018,instead of at the end of 2019.

Sundance Unit 2 will be mothballed for up to 2 years, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

TransAlta said it is retiring Sundance Unit 1 early and mothballing Sundance Unit 2 because of the "oversupplied Alberta power market and low power price environment."

Converting units to gas-fired generation will lower carbon emissions, reduce operating costs, increase operating flexibility, and add five to 10 years of economic life to each converted unit, TransAlta said.

Sundance Units 1 and 2 together generate 560 megawatts of the 2,141 MW at the Sundance power plant, which serves as a baseload provider for the Alberta electricity system.

TransAlta said the 2,400 MW capacity of Sundance Units 3 to 6 and Keephills 1 and 2 will not change following conversion, but will reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent.

The coal-to-gas conversions is expected to cost $300 million.

The release does not mention Keephills Unit 3 which began commercial operations in September, 2011. It is touted as one of Canada's largest and cleanest coal-fired facilities

The Alberta government intends to phase out all coal pollution by 2030.