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Thousands of Albertans grappled with rolling blackouts on Friday as the electricity grid came under extreme pressure from a supply crunch – the second time this week that the province’s system operator was forced to issue a grid alert after natural gas-fired power plants went offline.

Grid alerts are issued when the power system is under stress and the Alberta Electricity System Operator is preparing to use emergency reserves to meet demand. Residents and businesses are asked to conserve energy to avoid rolling outages.

Friday’s problems were compounded by a lack of wind needed to spin the turbines that generate power at wind farms across the province.

This week’s alerts by the system operator, which regulates the province’s grid, were the latest in a series of power problems to hit the province and underscore the fragility of its supply. While the government works to overhaul Alberta’s power system, Premier Danielle Smith is fighting a bitter battle with Ottawa over the future of the province’s electrical grid, particularly around the federal government’s plans to reduce greenhouse emissions from Canada’s power grid to net-zero by 2035.

In all cases, the system operator, the AESO, has issued the alerts after multiple natural gas-fired plants failed, though Ms. Smith has repeatedly blamed the role that renewables play in supplying power, saying they are unreliable.

The system operator’s vice-president of grid reliability operations, Marie-France Samaroden, told media Friday that its forecast of how much power would be generated by wind farms had far outstripped actual production, leaving it with a supply shortfall.

“We do our best to forecast and look forward as to what the supply will be,” Ms. Samaroden said. “However, there’s always forecast uncertainty and operational issues that occur, which is what we saw.”

In the latest incident, on Friday, the operator issued a grid alert at 6:49 a.m.

Then, at 8:49 a.m., TransAlta’s Keephills power plant went offline, removing 400 megawatts of supply from the province’s grid. The natural gas-fired power station is about 70 kilometres west of Edmonton.

That’s when the AESO told power providers to start rotating outages across the province, as it waited on older gas-fired plants to ramp up after being off-service on Thursday, Ms. Samaroden said.

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In Calgary, about 25,000 customers were affected when provider ENMAX reduced its load by 40 megawatts, per the AESO’s request. The company said in an e-mail that most outages lasted around 14 minutes. Various neighbourhoods were affected, but not critical infrastructure such as hospitals, police stations and fire halls.

It was a similar picture in Edmonton. Nearly 20,000 customers in all areas of the city lost power during rotating outages, starting just before 9 a.m. The company said in an e-mail that the blackouts lasted between 20 and 30 minutes.

Friday’s rolling outages followed a grid alert at 7:26 p.m. on Wednesday, urging customers to conserve power.

In January, amid a brutal cold snap with record low temperatures, spikes in power demand meant Albertans faced days of supply uncertainty after four natural gas-fired power plants failed because of mechanical and cold-weather issues. A shortage of wind and winter’s long periods of darkness meant renewable sources of power did little to ease the pressure.

The situation was so bad that the government activated the emergency alert system, using cellphones and televisions to warn Albertans to reduce their consumption to avoid imminent blackouts.

The province’s electricity operator is looking to improve its forecasts as best as it can, Ms. Samaroden said, adding that changes to bolster the reliability of Alberta’s grid are in the works for later this year.

The Premier said Friday that the province’s electricity system has been “built completely backward,” giving renewables an outsized role in supplying Albertans with power.

“We should be able to rely on a certain amount of baseload power, and then have another way of approaching the issue of intermittency,” Ms. Smith told media at a separate news conference.

“This is at the heart of everything that we’ve been saying for the last year – that the system is broken. It needs to be repaired, we need to be focused on baseload power and reliable and affordable energy, and we’re going to continue going down that path.”

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