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The minister in charge of Alberta’s power grid said that the system desperately needs to be upgraded and a reform plan will ensure that rolling brownouts such as those witnessed by Albertans this weekend will not be needed in the future. 

The provincial government and the Alberta Electric System Operator have outlined a multifaceted strategy to enhance the reliability and sustainability of Alberta’s electricity grid including limiting the offer price of natural gas generating units if net revenues cross a predefined threshold and mandating their availability during peak demands.

Utilities Minister Nathan Neudorf announced regulatory changes aimed at curbing economic withholding and promoting competition in a move to address high and volatile electricity prices. 

“Our government is committed to Alberta’s unique and investor-driven energy-only market. However, the market’s rules were designed 25 years ago, and some are no longer optimal for the system today. This will truly make a difference by helping lower Albertans’ utility bills,” he said. 

In a written statement to True North, Neudorf said that last week’s grid alerts showcase the importance of having natural gas as baseload power to meet the province’s energy needs, regardless of weather.

“Our province’s electricity system was not designed for our current circumstances, which is why our government has taken action to update the province’s electricity market rules, modernize the grid, and build our baseload power,” he said.

Neudorf added that the province continues to explore new renewable technologies such as geothermal, small modular reactors, and more. 

“There are currently over 6,000 megawatts of additional power capacity, largely natural gas, currently under construction in Alberta, which will help lower the cost of Albertans utility bills while also increasing grid stability,” he said.

Early Friday morning, at 6:49 am, the Alberta Electric System Operator announced an unexpected grid alert. The alert lasted until roughly 11:00 am, exceeding the estimated duration by about an hour.

The alert came on the heels of a similar incident on Wednesday, triggered by unexpected outages at power plants and a surge in demand despite ample power generation from renewable sources.

Wednesday’s grid alert lasted just over an hour. It came from the unexpected outage of thermal generation—coal and gas—during the evening’s peak electricity consumption time.

On Friday, wind generation was 900MW below forecast, and another thermal generator went offline, losing an additional 400MW of power.

The AESO had to direct its transmission and distribution partners to shed 250MW of load, which lasted for 20 minutes. Marie-France Samaroden, vice president of grid reliability at AESO, said that normal operations returned nearly two hours after the alert.

During AESO’s media briefing, she explained that several generators were offline due to “shoulder season” — less volatile times of the year when power consumption is lower, and generators typically get planned maintenance. 

“There’s always forecast uncertainty and operational issues that occur, which is what we saw,” explained Samaroden.

She added that the AESO is constantly improving its forecasts. Still, it’s an imperfect science, and unplanned mechanical issues sometimes occur with generators.

The AESO is looking at the reformed energy market and implementing various mitigation tactics that will provide a greater supply cushion and further bolster grid reliability, set to come into effect on July 1.

The rolling brownouts occurred across the province and ensured that no critical infrastructure outages occurred.

Activating additional power required more than simply flicking a switch. Samaroden explained that older units can take eight to 12 hours to ramp up to full capacity once being powered on. 

Push notifications to Albertans’ phones are sent by the provincial government. In January, residents received such notifications during Alberta’s grid instability. This is because the AESO forecasted the power supply issues. However, the thermal unit trip on Friday was unexpected, and the operator had to react quickly. 

“We had to react within about ten minutes from when it occurred to when we issued the need to do rotating outages,” said Samaroden.

True North reached out to the AESO for comment, but they were unable to reply by the time of publication.

True North previously reported that Danielle Smith invoked the Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act to defend the province from the federal government’s mandate of a net-zero electricity grid by 2035.

She said that the pathway proposed by Ottawa will lead to Alberta suffering provincial brownouts and blackouts. Smith said she remains steadfast for Alberta to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, which is achievable without putting the province’s electrical grid at risk of failure.