Sask fossil fuels power Alberta past cold snap crisis

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott MoeCourtesy WS Files

A cold spell that kept prairie temperatures below -30C required Alberta to draw on the Saskatchewan power grid, illustrating a continuing need for coal and natural gas despite a federal push for net zero carbon emissions.

Much of North America was in a deep freeze over the weekend. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe posted a weather map to Instagram and reminded the public most Canadians would pay more carbon taxes as they heated their homes, save for fuel oil users who live in Atlantic Canada.

Those who did turn to electric heat in record-cold temperatures drew heavily upon the electric grid. The Alberta Electric System Operator issued a grid alert warning at 3:30 p.m. January 13, noting such widespread "extreme" temperatures caused "very high demand."

"Albertans are asked to immediately reduce their electricity use to essential needs only. Reducing peak electricity demand through province-wide conservation will minimize the high potential for rotating outages this evening," read the AESO alert.

"Currently, the AESO projects the Alberta grid will face a 100 to 200 (megawatts) shortfall of electricity during peak evening hours. Immediate power conservation could make a significant difference in reducing overall system demand, currently at approximately 12,000 (megawatts)."

The AESO warned rotating outages could leave some regions without power for 30 minutes, though hospitals, fire, police and first responders would be spared completely. Because of "restricted imports" the AESO had few options to get more power.

Saskatchewan decided to offer an extra 153 megawatts of fossil-fueled power production to ensure its western neighbour was spared rotating power outages. Alberta's situation was so dire, residents received an alert on their phones, as Premier Moe showed in the Instagram post below.

According to the AESO, Albertans responded to the crisis themselves by reducing their power consumption shortly after the alert.

"Almost immediately after the alert was issued, the AESO saw a significant 100 (megawatts) drop in electricity demand, which amounted to a 200 (megawatts) reduction within minutes. The Grid Alert was declared ended at 8:40 p.m.," the AESO reported Saturday evening.

On Saturday, AESO also asked Albertans to minimize their power consumption again from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

The AESO issued another grid alert on Sunday at 4:15 pm that said, "High power demand due to extreme cold, two large natural gas generator outages and very low renewable power on the system have prompted the AESO to declare a Grid Alert."

If one clicks on the alert now, they are taken to the AESO homepage that announces the grid alert ended at 10:12 pm on Sunday. Ironically, the feature article on the homepage is entitled "Enhanced Wind and Solar Forecasting Strengthens Daily Grid Operations."

"AESO introduces new wind and solar forecasting charts, improving utilization of renewable power generation, dispatch efficiency and system reliability," the subtitle explains.

In a 2021 cold snap in Texas, gas-fired power plants failed because regulators insisted that the plants use renewable power in its own operations. Ian Madsen, senior policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, told The Epoch Times the "stupid" regulations were made for "greeny reasons."

“Texas had abundant natural gas that they could have used, but the stupid regulatory authorities for greeny reasons insisted that the gas plants that feed into the pipelines be powered by electricity [from wind turbines, not directly by gas]. With all the wind power out, they didn’t have enough electricity, and there wasn’t enough gas fired-electricity because they didn’t have the electricity to run the gas plants,” Madsen said.

The Texas storms left more than 4.5 million homes and businesses without power. An estimated 246 to 702 deaths occurred due to the crisis, with at least US$195 billion in damage caused.

The Western Standard has asked the AESO what led to Alberta's natural gas generator failures but has not yet received a response.

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