Alberta

Alberta Electricity Provider TransAlta Found Guilty of Market Manipulation, Boosting Case for Decentralizing Generation

Earlier this week, TransAlta — the massive, publicly traded electricity generation company based in Calgary — was found culpable by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) of repeatedly manipulating prices in 2010 and 2011 by intentionally shutting down power plants during peak demand to boost costs for consumers.

The Market Surveillance Administrator estimates the actions — which boosted costs by between 10 and 60 per cent depending on occurrence — made the company $16 million.

TransAlta has denied all claims and floated the idea of taking the case to the Alberta Court of Appeals.

Such a situation once again raises questions about the appropriateness of a deregulated electricity market, a feature Alberta has uniquely sported since 2001.

'Grassroots’ Canada Action Carries Deep Ties to Conservative Party, Oil and Gas Industry

Our messages are not resonating,” Natural Resource Minister Greg Rickford told a room full of oil and gas executives in a luxury Rocky Mountain resort last fall. “You are fighting an uphill battle for public confidence.”

Rickford, who attended the meeting at the request of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), encouraged the executives to do more to spread the oil industry’s message to the Canadian public.

Much of the debate over energy is characterized by myth or emotion,” he said, suggesting scientists and campaigners critical of development in the Alberta oilsands were “crowding out the real facts.”

Rickford made no mention of Canada’s international climate commitments, but he did deride concerns about pollution from the oilsands — the country’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Rickford’s advice, released to Greenpeace via an Access to Information request, marked the beginning of a decisive shift in industry’s public relations campaigns.

Nexen’s Brand New, Double-Layered Pipeline Just Ruptured, Causing One of the Biggest Oil Spills Ever in Alberta

A pipeline at Nexen Energy’s Long Lake oilsands facility southeast of Fort McMurray, Alberta, spilled about five million liters (32,000 barrels or some 1.32 million gallons) of emulsion, a mixture of bitumen, sand and water, Wednesday afternoon — marking one of the largest spills in Alberta history.

According to reports, the spill covered as much as 16,000 square meters (almost 4 acres). The emulsion leaked from a “feeder” pipe that connects a wellhead to a processing plant.

At a press conference Thursday, Ron Bailey, Nexen vice president of Canadian operations, said the company “sincerely apologize[d] for the impact this has caused.” He confirmed the double-layered pipeline is a part of Nexen's new system and that the line's emergency detection system failed to alert officials to the breach, which was discovered during a visual inspection. 

Alberta Takes First Step to Clamp Down on Carbon Emissions

Oilsands emissions

It’s finally happening: after years of stalling by the Progressive Conservatives, Alberta’s new NDP government announced Thursday it will double the province’s meager carbon levy on large emitters by 2017.

Industry and environmentalists alike welcomed the decision, while also saying it doesn’t go far enough. 

Currently, any facility that emits more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year must reduce its emissions by 12 per cent below typical performance or pay $15 per tonne for emissions over the baseline. By 2017, the new framework will require companies to lower emissions by 20 per cent below typical performance, with a $30-per-tonne levy for emissions above that target.

It’s not going to drive the meaningful reductions or give the market incentives that we need,” said Ed Whittingham, executive director of the Pembina Institute.

Did the Alberta NDP Overpromise in Pledge to Spend Money on Public Transit Instead of Carbon Capture?

A single mention in 25 pages — that’s how frequently “public transit” was referenced in the Alberta NDP’s recent election platform.

But the brief mention was couched in a massively ambitious plan to redirect huge subsidies from sketchy carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects to the province’s neglected public transportation system. But that plan might be more complex than the party realized due to contracts with companies nearly ready to put major CCS facilities online.

On an online forum, the NDP made this campaign pledge: “We will end the Progressive Conservative’s costly and ineffective Carbon Capture and Storage experiment and reinvest the 2015/16 component of this project into construction of public transit, which will help reduce families’ transportation costs and reduce greenhouse gases and other air pollutants.”

Transportation is hugely significant contributor to climate change. The sector expected to account for 24 per cent of Canada’s emissions by 2020 according to the most recent Environment Canada projections (second only to the oil and gas sector at 27 per cent). So the availability of public transportation, which means less individual vehicles on the road, can help municipalities deal with growing emissions.

Unfortunately, there are few details as to what the NDP’s plan actually entails.

Would an Oilsands Moratorium Be in Alberta’s Own Self-Interest? This Group of Over 100 Scientists Thinks So

A group of scientists from across North America are calling on the governments of Canada and Alberta to impose a moratorium on future development of the Alberta oilsands.

The recommendation is the result of a consensus document that surveys scientific literature related to the oilsands from across research fields. The clear outcome of the research — as it relates to climate, ecosystems, species protection and indigenous rights — is a need to end oilsands growth, the group states.

As scientists we recognize that no one can speak with authority to all aspects of this complex topic, which is why we came together to synthesize the science from our different fields,” Wendy Palen, professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University, said.

The group of scientists, which include 12 fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, 22 members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, five recipients of the Order of Canada and a Nobel Prize winner, released their consensus position on a website, www.oilsandsmoratorium.org, Wednesday. A ful list of the scientists supporting the moratorium can be found here.

Would You Raise Your Hand for Canada's Oil and Gas Industry?

Raise Your Hand Canada Feature Image

After a rough year of collapsing oil prices and the embarrassing dethroning of Alberta’s longtime Progressive Conservative government, the oil and gas industry could use a win. The latest campaign from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was probably designed to be one.

Alas.

Developed as part of CAPP's ‘Energy Citizens’ movement, the ‘Raise your Hand’ campaign is well-designed and clearly expensive. Online and off, it features smiling multiracial faces with hands raised — overlayed with hand-drawn outlines of patriotic maple leaves. There are cheerful videos, interactive bus shelter ads and an online submission form to stay connected. It even has a hashtag (#ryhcanada), the extremely limited Twitter impact of which must be giving at least one advertising executive an ulcer right now.

As Mark Hume noted in the Globe and Mail this weekend, an ad campaign that attempts to co-opt patriotism for its own ends is hardly something new. NGOs have done it for years. So have McDonalds, Molson's beer and Roots. And yet, as Hume says, “CAPP’s slogan — 'Raise your hand because you are proud of Canada’s oil and natural gas' — doesn’t quite have the same ring as one that urges you to raise your hand against racism, ignorance or disease.”

Wildfires Rage Near Oilsands Operations, Raising Climate Questions

Forest fires covering 8,200 hectares of land in northern Alberta continue to burn out of control, spurred on by extremely dry conditions and unseasonably warm temperatures. The fires have forced the evacuation of hundreds of oilsands workers, the irony of which is not being lost on many  (just check out the reactions to this CBC article).

Climate change during the 21st century is expected to result in more frequent fires in many boreal forests, with severe environmental and economic consequences,” said a 2014 Natural Resources Canada post

About 10 per cent of Canada’s oil output — amounting to about 233,000 barrels a day — has been shut down since Monday, May 25, due to the fires. The Bank of America Merril Lynch warned in a research report that if wildfire disruptions persist, there could be a 0.1 to 0.3 per cent hit to second-quarter annualized growth.

An increase in the number of forest fires is likely to make one of the world’s most costly fossil fuel sources even more labour intensive and expensive.

Alberta’s First NDP Climate Victory May Have Nothing to Do With the Oilsands and Everything to Do With Coal

Back in March when the prospect of a majority NDP government in Alberta was still a twinkle in Rachel Notley’s eye, the to-be premier introduced a motion to phase out the province’s use of coal for electricity by 2030.

The evidence is clear that it is time to phase out coal powered electricity in the province in Alberta. Coal is one of the single largest pollutants in Alberta. It costs our health care millions of dollars every year and is a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions,” she said, urging then premier Jim Prentice and the Progressive Conservative party to “do the right thing.”

So now that Notley has taken the reins, will she follow through with her own ambitious plan?

Alberta Election Was a Referendum on Entitlement

It was the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of entitlement.

On Monday, the day before the Alberta election, the province’s four largest newspapers — the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun — endorsed the Progressive Conservatives.

Now, newspapers endorsing parties is nothing new, but every major newspaper in Alberta being owned by one company is new. (Postmedia acquired the Calgary Sun and Edmonton Sun this March when the Competition Bureau signed off on the purchase.)

What else appears to be new is that the Edmonton Journal (which did not endorse in 2012) was asked to endorse not by local management, but by head office in Toronto, according to editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand.

Asked by Canadaland who chose to endorse the PCs, Goodhand responded: “The owners of the Journal made that call.”

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