By Lethbridge Herald on February 10, 2024.
AT THE LEGISLATURE
Nathan Neudorf – UCP MLA for Lethbridge East
In a historic moment for our province, Albertans came together as we navigated our first emergency response concerning the electricity grid.
On January 13, Albertans experienced an unprecedented event — for the first time an Emergency Broadcast Alert was used in relation to the electricity grid. The response was overwhelming, with approximately 100 megawatts (MW) of demand going offline within 60 seconds and 200 MW within five minutes. To put it in perspective, 100 MW can power about 120,000 homes, and 200 MW around 240,000 homes. Keeping in mind that across the province we had to keep using various energy-consuming appliances like furnaces and hot water tanks, this means nearly 500,000 homes, businesses, and industrial users collectively played a crucial role in avoiding a dangerous power supply shortage that evening. Thank you, Alberta!
This experience has prompted many questions about the state of our electricity grid and how we can prevent such situations in the future. The five inquiries into our generation mix, land use, transmission policy, and market structure that started last August, will provide us with a comprehensive understanding.
One question that arises is whether a capacity market could have averted this situation. Alberta runs on an energy only market, where we pay only for the energy consumed, not for capacity availability.
In a capacity market, payment is made for the availability of a specified electrical capacity, whether used or not.
The challenge is finding the right amount of capacity to have. If we have excess but only use it a few days a year, it’s costly insurance; on the other hand, running short of electricity is not ideal. So, the answer is a nuanced, maybe.
When Alberta embarked on the transition away from coal-generated electricity in 2017, several plants converted to natural gas. Among the most significant, one facility is still in the final stages of construction. It is unknown whether accelerating the construction timeline would have been possible without incurring substantial added costs. Despite these challenges, the upcoming completion of these natural gas facilities within the next 12 months is a crucial step to address short-term energy supply concerns.
Balancing this transition and addressing potential shortages requires strategic planning, emphasizing the importance of both infrastructure development and active consumer participation in shaping a resilient energy landscape for Alberta’s future.
Enter demand side management (DSM), a strategy empowering consumers to change their electricity usage, managing both supply and demand efficiently. Instead of solely relying on increased generation, DSM encourages consumers to make informed decisions on when and how much power to consume. Techniques like residential solar panels, time-of-use pricing, micro-grids, and smart technology will play a vital role.
As Alberta grows, and our society becomes more electrified, the demand for electricity will surge. Managing the demand side of the grid through DSM will be crucial to control costs.
It is not just generation costs affecting ratepayers, but also transmission, distribution, access fees, rate riders, and taxes — factors growing with conventional generation but not necessarily with DSM.
By the end of February, our Conservative government will conclude five comprehensive inquiries into our electrical system. In March, we will share the findings and vision of each, building a pathway toward a carbon-neutral future by 2050.
Demand side management, empowering ratepayers to make sustainable consumption decisions, will be a vital part of this plan.
Thanks again for the essential role you played in keeping the lights on, and let’s work together to ensure we do not have to use an alert again!