The Alberta Utility Commission's conclusion that TransAlta triggered outages at power plants to raise electricity rates is a welcome step toward fair markets, the head of the province's utility watchdog said Tuesday.
"It's a huge win for Albertans, who deserve to benefit from a fair, efficient, openly competitive market," said Harry Chandler, administrator of the Market Surveillance Administrator.
Chandler accused TransAlta of deliberately timing outages at coal-fired power plants in Alberta at peak times in late 2010 and early 2011 in order to drive up electricity prices.
In a report released Monday, Alberta's Utility Commission agreed.
During hearings held by the commission, TransAlta argued that it believed it was allowed to do that based in part on discussions with the Market Surveillance Administrator. But the commission found that TransAlta should have made further consultations before going ahead with its plan.
TransAlta has said it is reviewing the ruling, and a further response could include the possibility of an appeal to the province's highest court.
Chandler said the decision provides more clarity for Alberta's utility market going forward.
"This is a watershed decision that all market participants, and even outside of Alberta, are going to pay a great deal of attention to because it gives very clear guidance on appropriate behaviour in the electricity market."
The commission said it will resume proceedings later to determine how much TransAlta benefited from the closures and what penalties to impose against the company.
Jim Law, a spokesman for the commission, said it could fine up to $1-million per day per offence, plus claw back any benefits it finds TransAlta gained from any offences.
Monday's decision did not consider how much TransAlta benefited from the outages, but the Market Surveillance Administrator has accused the company of making $16-million in profits from the shutdowns.
Chandler said his office expects to be actively involved in the next phase of the commission's hearings.
"We're looking for the kind of penalty that would send a message about deterrence for this kind of behaviour," Chandler said.