Alberta is set to unveil successful bidders for 400 megawatts of renewable energy projects in a major step by the oil-rich province toward transforming its power grid.
The province will announce results of a competition under its marquee renewable-energy program as early as Wednesday in Calgary, in the first of several such auctions planned as part of a massive overhaul of its electricity system.
The added capacity marks a big leap for a province keen to jump-start investment in up to 5,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030, and shift away from its long reliance on coal-fired electricity.
NDP Premier Rachel Notley is especially eager to spur investment in solar and wind resources as the province emerges from a three-year rout in crude prices that has plunged it into deficit and led to tens of thousands of job losses in the dominant oil industry.
A year ago, Alberta introduced sweeping changes to the grid – including supply contracts backstopped by the government – in a bid to make it easier for such intermittent power to compete.
Suncor Energy Inc., TransAlta Corp. and BluEarth Renewables Inc. were among dozens of domestic and international companies that submitted expressions of interest to the Alberta Electric System Operator for the program.
Other interested parties included EDF EN Canada, Algonquin Power Corp. and Capital Power Corp. A total of 29 projects qualified for the request for proposal stage, representing 10 times the target capacity of 400 megawatts, according to the province.
The results of the auction will be closely parsed for insight into the quality of Alberta's renewable resources and current costs for renewable power development in the province, said Kent Howie, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Calgary.
Contracts awarded by the government will effectively lock in a set price the successful bidder will receive for all the electricity generated by its project over 20 years, he said.
"This will essentially be the most recent price discovery of what the cheapest renewable power costs in Alberta, so a lot of people are watching to see what the prices are going to be," he said by phone.
"I think they're also going to be watching closely to see who wins this, and whether it's generators with existing facilities in the province, or whether there will be new entrants into the market."
Alberta, known more for its vast oil-sands deposits, is seeking to lure billions in investment needed to meet an ambitious target of generating one-third of its electricity from renewable power by 2030, with the rest from natural gas.
To accelerate the switch, the province last year committed to $1.36-billion in compensation for major power producers in exchange for mothballing coal units years ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, a provincewide carbon tax will jump to $30 a tonne starting Jan. 1.
Changes also include toughened rules targeting heavy emitters in the oil sands, stoking concerns about the province's overall competitiveness. Nevertheless, some companies are poised to reap benefits.
Last week, TransAlta said it would accelerate, by one year, plans to convert some of its coal-fired generating units in the province to run on natural gas. The company is also studying a $2.5-billion hydro-storage project at its existing Brazeau complex southwest of Edmonton.
Chief executive officer Dawn Farrell praised the new rules and said that the company stands to generate annual carbon credits worth $30-million to $50-million from its existing fleet of renewable assets, helping offset compliance costs at its natural-gas and coal-fired units.
Wind developers say such tradeoffs provide opportunities to partner and trade credits with large emitters, especially as costs for new generation decline.
"I think people are really going to actually be surprised at how competitive wind is with everything else, especially here in Alberta," said Evan Wilson, a Calgary-based regional director for the Canadian Wind Energy Association.