Natural gas has emerged as the winner in two power projects launched to comply with an Alberta government environmental policy requiring replacement of coal-fired generating stations with cleaner alternatives.
TransAlta Corp. announced an agreement with Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd. for construction of a pipeline capable of delivering up to 340 MMcf/d to plants west of the Alberta capital in Edmonton.
Suncor Energy notified environmental regulatory authorities that it intends to replace coal-like petroleum coke with natural gas as fuel for a legacy power plant at its 50-year-old oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray.
TransAlta predicted 680 MMcf/d would eventually be needed to replace coal in its generations-old Alberta power plant network.
The conversion will be done gradually and at first enable the power stations to use a fuel mix of natural gas and coal, company president Dawn Farrell said.
The new pipeline, planned to draw supplies from the Brazeau region of west-central Alberta by 2020, “allows TransAlta to blend natural gas with the coal, prior to fully converting the units, allowing us to take advantage of low natural gas prices and reduce our carbon costs.”
Coke is a high-volume byproduct of oil sands mining complexes, as a residue of heavy hydrocarbons stripped out of bitumen ore by upgrader plants. Suncor’s operations alone report piling up 15,000 tons/day of the byproduct, with some sold as construction material and fuel for other industries.
Suncor described the goal of the oil sands conversion as a gas-fired “cogeneration” operation providing heat for thermal bitumen extraction plus enough electricity to sell 700 MW into the provincial power grid. Projected gas supply sources and consumption volumes were not disclosed.
Alberta government policy calls for complete elimination of coal-fired power from the province by 2030. A complex environmental regime of carbon taxation, emissions ratings and rebates for cleanups rewards conversions. With their projects still in planning stages and the regime still evolving, TransAlta and Suncor did not disclose cost forecasts.