Our History

Our History

A powerful past

Since 1911, we’ve supplied the electric power that has made progress and innovation possible in Alberta – and beyond.

At first, our growth was tied to the evolution of a province steeped in prairie optimism and rich natural resources. More recently, we’ve powered industry, commerce, and community well-being across Canada, in the U.S., and Australia.

Wherever we operate, we are committed to responsibly supplying reliable electric power to customers at an affordable cost; to investing in the local community; and to doing business in a manner that ensures our employees are safe and proud.

1909 - 1919

When the province of Alberta was four years old, we began our journey with the planning and construction of the Horseshoe Falls Hydro Plant. Two years later and with the help of 200 workers, we flipped the switch and Calgary Power Company Ltd. was born. Our second dam was commissioned in 1913 at Kananaskis Falls, built by almost 500 workers.

At the time, streetcars were responsible for a significant share of Calgary’s electrical load. Residential power was just being introduced, and many homes were lit for the first time with electrical lamps because of Calgary Power.

1920 - 1929

Electricity was being put to new uses – from powering street lamps to motion pictures – all while contributing to the exploration and early economic success of Alberta.

Electricity transformed daily life at home, on the farm and at work with the introduction of water pumps, refrigerators, milking machines and stoves.

Important Milestones:

  • The Spray River hydro system was developed by Board of Directors member, Geoffery Gaherty
  • Our transmission system expanded in the mid-1920s, linking Calgary with Seebe, High River and Blackie. Franchises were signed with 15 Alberta towns, hamlets and villages including Claresholm, Nobleford, Stavely, Taber and Vulcan.
  • We purchased an “artificial-gas-driven power plant” from Olds Electric Company where coal was converted to gas, which then powered the plant.
  • The High River electric plant and Wataskiwin Utilities were acquired
  • The Ghost River hydro plant was constructed in 1928.

Downtown Calgary in the 1920s

1930 - 1939

Fortunately, we were strong enough to continue operations when the Great Depression hit without having to lay off a single employee.

Important Milestones:

  • In 1937, we toured our “Modern All-Electric Kitchen,” a fully functioning kitchen built inside a trailer that toured to spread the word about the wonders of electricity.
  • The 1930s also saw the birth of the oil and gas industry in Alberta. Calgary Power supplied electricity to nomadic oil workers.
  • 1939, the company’s first “time control” was introduced at the Ghost Plant which kept electric clocks on time by automatically adjusting the generator speed at the plant. The control was later implemented at all the company’s hydro plants.

Calgary Power’s “Modern All-Electric Kitchen” went on the road in July 1937 to spread the word about electricity. The first stop was in Airdrie where 40 people – 20 per cent of the town’s population – turned out to see the display.

1940 - 1949

With the onset of the Second World War, many employees enlisted to serve their country.

In 1941, we began assigning employee numbers and Jal Abelseth of the Seebe plant was honoured with being employee 00001.

The company purchased the Cascade hydro plant from the federal government in 1914, dismantling the original and building a new Cascade plant, resulting in Lake Minnewanka’s water storage allowing for well-managed water flows through the year.

Rural electrification was a focus for the company in the 1940s and into the 1950s. When Calgary Power trucks would arrive, workers were welcomed with food and refreshments and farmers were quick to lend a hand.

1950 - 1959

By 1950, we had more than 400 staff members and offices across Alberta, including Edmonton, Camrose, Wetaskiwin, Calgary and Lethbridge. In addition, the company served 6,000 new customers and 24 additional towns and villages.

The decade also saw remote control arrive at our hydro plants, and in 1951 the Seebe Control Centre was built to centrally manage many of our dams. Three years later a northern control centre was built near Edmonton.

By the late 1950s, there were few undeveloped hydro sites in Alberta but demand for power continued to grow. This led to the company’s first thermal generating plant, at Wabamun, west of Edmonton, Alberta, beginning operation in 1956. The site was adjacent to coal reserves in excess of 50 million tons.

By 1958, we operated in almost every corner of the province serving even remote rural areas.

The Seebe control centre in 1952.

1960 - 1969

1961, marked our first 50 years of operation and Calgary Power reached an agreement with the Alberta government to jointly construct a multi-use dam on the Brazeau River. The first turbine was commissioned in 1965. A storage dam was also constructed on the North Saskatchewan River.

By 1967, a second unit at Brazeau was supplying power. Meanwhile, construction started on the company’s second thermal generating plant, Sundance. In 1968, a fourth unit at Wabamun was completed, the third having been completed six years earlier.

Our Brazeau hydro plant is one of two we operate on the North Saskatchewan River.

1970 - 1979

By the early ’70s, society was becoming environmentally conscious. We responded by retrofitting boilers with electrostatic precipitators which removed 99.5 per cent of fly ash from emissions. While interest rates rose, we continued to expand to keep up with the needs of a growing province.

In 1970, Calgary Power commissioned the first coal-fired unit at the Sundance Generating Plant, with 286 megawatts of capacity. In 1972, the construction of the Bighorn Dam on the North Saskatchewan River was completed. Its reservoir was named Lake Abraham, after a long-time Aboriginal resident of the area, Silas Abraham.

Meanwhile, land reclamation at the company’s Whitewood Mine, near our Wabamun Plant, was well underway and setting a pattern for ongoing reclamation activities that continue to this day.

In 1974, Calgary Power acquired Lethbridge’s generating plant and the company’s Sundance plant expanded, with Units Four and Five coming online in 1977 and 1978.

Our Sundance plant, pictured here, first came on line in 1970. It is now our largest plant and can generate in excess of 2,000 MW.

1980 - 1989

In 1981, we officially changed our name and became TransAlta, the new name better reflecting our now province-wide operations, having expanded to supply 81 per cent of Alberta’s electrical requirements by the end of the decade.

Early in the decade we also commissioned Sundance Unit Six. It came online in 1980 and incorporated the latest advances in generation technology.

The Keephills Plant was commissioned in 1983 and in service in 1984.

In the ’80s, Calgary Power became TransAlta.

1990 - 1999

In the ’90s, TransAlta worked with government to define the open, competitive and deregulated electricity market that would come about in the new millennium.

Through the ’90s, we learned a great deal about competing internationally and in newly deregulated markets by operating hydro-electric facilities in Argentina as well as power plants in Australia and New Zealand.

We were also the first Alberta utility to introduce an incentive program for energy efficiency. Industrial motors used up to 80 per cent of the power consumed by business. Rebates of $400 were offered when more efficient electric motors were installed.

In 1996, TransAlta won one of the first environmental awards issued by the Climate Change Voluntary Challenge Program, and we published our first sustainability report in 1998. We’ve maintained a tradition of sustainable development ever since, along with an honest and open Sustainability Reporting.

In 1999, we successfully bid on our first U.S. asset, a coal-fired plant in Centralia, Washington, transforming it into one of the cleanest coal-fired generation facilities in North America.

Our Centralia plant is one of the largest suppliers of base load power in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

2000 - 2009

With deregulation now in effect, TransAlta became the first Canadian electrical generation company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company has since grown to become the largest investor-owned generator of renewable energy in Canada.

With deregulation, we also divested ourselves of our Alberta-based retail and distribution businesses, choosing instead to focus solely on power generation.

Other new markets opened, including Mexico, where we built and operated two gas-fired power plants before selling them in 2008.

To end the decade, TransAlta completed the acquisition of Canadian Hydro Developers Inc., adding 21 renewable energy plants to its portfolio in the process. It also played a vital leadership role in advancing Project Pioneer – one of the largest integrated carbon capture and storage projects in the world.

Kent Hills, NB. One of our many sustainable development efforts and investments in wind energy.

2010 and Beyond

Since 2009, TransAlta has focused on increasing investment in a diversified generation fleet of low-cost power assets that serve customers in the various cities, regions and countries we operate in. Today we are Canada’s largest wind operator, Alberta’s largest hydro operator and have diversified our generation mix to include sources such as solar.

 

Diversifying our generation

Since 2010, we’ve added 370 megawatts of wind capacity with our New Richmond wind facility in Québec and by acquiring four other wind farms in Alberta, Ontario, Minnesota and Wyoming. We also added 19 megawatts of hydro power through the commissioning of Bone Creek Dam in British Columbia in 2010. We’ve recently expanded our renewables platform by acquiring 21 megawatts of solar generation in Massachusetts, U.S. We continue to expand our renewable energy assets as we work towards our goal of being Canada’s largest clean power generator by 2030.

TransAlta has invested over a billion dollars in growth and development in Australia since 2012:

  • In 2015, we constructed the longest natural gas pipeline of the past 10 years in Western Australia to fuel our 125 megawatt remote gas-fired Solomon power station; acquired in 2012 and sold in 2017.
  • In 2017, we completed one of the most efficient power stations in Western Australia. South Hedland, a 150-megawatt combined-cycle gas power station, which continues to help meet the region’s future energy needs.

Australia continues to be a core region for our company’s growth.

 

Securing investor value

TransAlta Renewables (RNW) was launched in 2013 by TransAlta to house our long-term contracted gas and renewable assets. The company is an ongoing commitment to secure value for investors from our renewable energy assets.

 

Leading the way in sustainability

Our sustainable approach to power generation is award-winning and we were the first company in Alberta to combine our sustainability and financial report into one. In addition, we believe that achieving a perfect safety record is possible and continue to improve our safety performance.

We are committed to our people, our communities and our First Nations partners. We invest millions annually to have a meaningful impact in the community programs and organizations near our operations.

In 2014 and 2017, we received a silver designation in the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) certification program, recognizing the importance we place on engagement, communication and appreciation for the value that Aboriginal peoples bring to our business partnerships. These two awards recognize our efforts from 2011-2016.

The 2013 Alberta Flood was unprecedented and devastating. Our teams assisted in minimizing the floods impact at both an operational and community level, responding to the sudden onslaught of water without a single safety incident or injury, and through keeping our stakeholders informed and volunteering in the impacted communities in the flood’s aftermath.

 

Reclaiming mining land

Reclamation is an essential part of the development of any project and is accounted for in each part of the construction process. As we continue our transition from coal generation, we are reclaiming even larger sections of land previously used for coal mining.

In Alberta, we completed one of Canada’s largest coal-mine reclamation programs, reclaiming 1,913 hectares of land and planting more than 280,000 trees, returning the former Whitewood Mine land to an agricultural, wildlife and wetland area. At our Highvale Mine, we have completed reclamation of more than 1,507 hectares (23 per cent of the mined land), into productive farmland and other land uses. A total of 207 hectares of our reclaimed mine land in the Alberta Wabamun Lake region has been donated to the Wildlife Trust Fund, including 33 hectares to the Beaver Creek Conservation Site.

In Centralia, Washington State, we are reclaiming 3,440 hectares of land for a larger lake area, forest, wetlands, agricultural, and other land uses by 2030 – 19 years earlier than anticipated when mining operations began. We reclaimed 33 per cent of the mined land (1,187 hectares) at the end of 2015, and over 1.8 million trees have been planted since reclamation efforts began more than 25 years ago at the Centralia Mine. We also donated 405 hectares of reclaimed land towards the Industrial Park at TransAlta that the Lewis County Economic Development Council is using to support economic growth.

 

Transitioning to clean power

Our Centralia coal-fired plant transition has already begun under the TransAlta Energy Transition Bill in 2011. The Bill represents a significant collaboration among policymakers, environmentalist, labour leaders and TransAlta to close one coal unit by 2020 and the other by 2025. This bill allowing us to grow and maintain our presence in the power market while protecting jobs and the community, assisted by $55 million set aside to assist community development during the transition.

We look forward to the work ahead to increase renewables in Alberta. We see the impact that advancing technology and changing regulations can have on the job market, and we realize the importance of taking innovative approaches to provide future employment opportunities.

TransAlta will complete its clean power transition by 2030. Keep watching — there’s more to come.

As we continued past our first 100 years, TransAlta added new facilities such as the Mass Solar project in Massachusetts

About Us

Our beginnings as a small, local power company laid the foundation for TransAlta to become the well-respected power generator and wholesale marketer we are today.

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Leadership

TransAlta’s Corporate Officers and Board of Directors lead the organization with their diverse industry experience and a comprehensive understanding of the electricity, resource, finance and regulatory sectors.

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Awards and Acheivements

TransAlta has been recognized throughout the years for our commitment to be a responsible operator and a proud community member where our employees work and live.

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