Editorial by Dawn Farrell that appeared in the Calgary Herald on Saturday, November 7, 2015

Nov 7, 2015

Article at CalgaryHerald.com  |  Article at EdmontonJournal.com

What if we moved Alberta’s climate change debate from a winner-take-all proposition to a plan to protect jobs, consumers and Alberta’s competitiveness, while at the same time reducing emissions and accelerating the province’s transition to renewable energy?

Rather than argue about which of these is most important, let’s agree that they are all important, and move forward from there. Right now.

Here’s what TransAlta put on the table in our discussions with the Alberta Government:   Under the Dial Down Coal – Dial Up Renewables proposal, we are prepared to start “dialing down” our coal operations by 20 per cent, starting in 2016, and put a hard cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

We are also prepared to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to dial up the transition to new renewables, including hydro, wind and solar. TransAlta is a clean power company, with the largest wind generation capacity in Canada and the largest hydro in Alberta. Our commitment to renewables was made and proven long ago.

Dial Down – Dial Up starts with an agreement with the province, environmental groups, the communities in which we operate, and our employees, because jobs matter. Not jobs that will be created in the future, but thousands of jobs held today by our employees and contractors. That’s almost 3,000 people, not including jobs in the communities where they work.

And electricity prices matter, because there is a real risk to consumers, including Alberta businesses, of price spikes and volatility. We are an energy-intensive province that needs affordable electricity locally to be competitive globally.

Alberta’s electricity rates have increased on average about by 10% over the past five years.  In comparison, Ontario has seen an increase of about 50% over the same period, largely due to an aggressive program to retire coal generation and subsidize rapid renewable energy growth. We think Alberta can achieve its environmental and energy objectives without shifting the cost burden to consumers and businesses.

Electricity generators would not be compensated for lost production under Dial Down – Dial Up, but we would need a fixed transition timeline, enabling TransAlta and its employees to collectively manage the transition without forcing people out of work. It’s been argued that renewables will bring new jobs and new growth. That’s true. But we are talking about jobs today; the livelihoods of families right now. Walk down the streets of Parkland County, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Wabamun, Hanna and Grande Cache and you’ll come across someone who is affected, one way or another.

Instead of spending capital to upgrade plants already scheduled for closure, we will instead invest in renewables. The agreement would need to cover our current and future emissions reduction obligations – but it would be contingent on us achieving 9 megatonnes of reductions to advance Alberta’s emissions reduction targets.

A hard cap prevents generators from emitting greenhouse gases above a certain level set by the province. Instead of meeting greenhouse gas reductions targets through Specified Gas Emitter Regulations – which is essentially a means of paying-to-pollute – generators would cut greenhouse gases by scaling back production. This approach also creates investment climate in which Alberta is seen globally as a province that both welcomes new investment and encourages growth in renewables. It creates the stability and certainty needed to attract the billions of dollars that will be needed to fund the renewables transition without asking consumers to foot the bill. And it protects communities, who are at risk of losing millions of dollars in tax revenues that pay for community services.

Will this transition to cleaner generation take longer under Dial Down – Dial Up? No. In fact, dialing down coal can begin immediately.  The current transition timetable to be off coal in most of Alberta’s plants is about 2030. In the same time frame we can shift Alberta’s renewables mix from about eight per cent today to 25 per cent by 2030. And we are ready to start dialing down coal next year.

Could the transition be accelerated even faster? Anything is possible, but at what cost to Alberta’s competitiveness, people and communities? We agree on the need to move more quickly and decisively. We don’t agree that jobs and economic growth must be sacrificed to achieve it.

So we extend an open invitation – which I first offered at the Pembina Climate Change Summit in Edmonton last September – to environmental groups, our employees, communities and the province to sit down and reach an agreement that shows the world what Alberta can do.

– Dawn Farrell, President and CEO, TransAlta