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Alta. electrical grid alerts a result of market issues, lack of capacity: analysts

Alberta electrical grid

As Albertans woke to another day of deep cold temperatures, the province's electric system operator had yet another grid alert in place, warning of a teetering power supply.

By 9:21 a.m. the alert had been cancelled, something the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) attributed to renewable energy capacity coming online.

"But as soon as … the sun came up this morning, that made the difference in getting us out of the grid alert and back to normal market operations," said Leif Sollid, spokesperson for AESO.

"So we need wind, and the wind is picking up today. So that's helping us out a lot as well."

On Saturday evening, AESO warned of the possibility of rolling blackouts in the province as it struggled to keep up with demand.

"In this case, we've had challenges with unplanned natural gas generators going off-line largely due to weather-related issues," Sollid said.

"And we've had some challenges on (the) renewable front, we've had very little wind, which is typical of extreme cold weather."

Despite the widespread cold in the west, Alberta was the only province to reach the brink of shutting off power to residents.

Over the weekend, the premier and her counterpart in Saskatchewan both used the energy alerts to launch criticism of the federal plan to move to net-zero power grids by 2035.

Both pointed to the reliability of natural gas over renewables, even as Alberta went to its neighbours trying to buy more electricity.

Energy economist Blake Shaffer, with the University of Calgary, says there is no single cause for Alberta's electricity problems, and says it's false to suggest the future is either renewable or fossil fuel generation.

"I do think that this shows us that no amount of renewables would push us to have solved that winter peak on Saturday," Shaffer says.

"And that means flexibility to have a gas fleet, for example, that is capable of being there for a few hours for a few days, maybe a few weeks a year. And we need the technical and economic setup to make that worth their while to be there."

Shaffer also says Alberta has a price limit of $1,000 CAD per megawatt hour when buying power from other jurisdictions. But a major natural gas storage facility in Washington state went offline over the weekend, driving prices there to around $2,000 USD per megawatt hour.

It resulted in British Columbia having less power to sell.

Shaffer says two issues stand out.

"One is a market design issue. Do we have a price cap that puts us at an inferior situation to our neighbours, when you really need it?" Shaffer says.

"We saw this cold weather coming, everybody was preparing for it. The wind forecast was out a week ago we saw there was going to be no wind. Thankfully, the gas thermal fleet performed amazingly well." Top Stories

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