Canada Kicks Ass

Oilsands may ship electricity to U.S.
Date: Friday, February 07 2003
Topic: International News


An energy company says it has preliminary plans to build a $1.5-billion
electricity transmission line directly from Alberta oilsands plants to
industrial consumers in the United States.

"We are studying the feasibility of it right now," said Glenn Herchak, a spokesman for TransCanada Power L.P., which is managed by TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. of Calgary.
Early designs call for a 1,600-kilometre, direct-current line carrying up to 2,000 megawatts of electricity. That's about a quarter of Alberta's peak electricity demand, and enough juice to power two million homes for a year.
TransCanada tentatively wants to begin construction of the NorthernLights line in 2005 and finish in 2008. The line would likely follow existing rights of way or government-owned land, where possible.
The company must first get firm commitments at both ends of the system, Herchak said.
The power would be generated by plants at Fort McMurray-area oilsands sites. "Our focus right now is to work with the producers," Herchak said.
Syncrude Canada, Suncor Energy and Albian Oil Sands all have plants producing both electricity and steam.
Such cogeneration plants usually produce more electricity than the oilsands companies use on site. Exporting surplus power would provide income to the oilsands operators, Herchak suggested.
TransCanada also met this week with potential U.S. customers while accompanying Alberta Energy Minister Murray Smith on a two-day trip to Oregon and Washington.
Those states are looking for power to supplement their own production, Smith said.
The average daily demand in the Pacific Northwest is 30,000 megawatts, a volume expected to climb to 45,000 by 2020.
TransCanada hasn't decided if the NorthernLights line would be a "dedicated" line selling power only to U.S. customers, or would sell some electricity in Alberta.
That's of great interest to the provincial Transmission Administrator, an appointed body that must ensure Alberta's electricity supply network is adequate.
There has been no overhaul of the 20,000-kilometre Alberta transmission system in 17 years.
The cost of improvements could range from $750,000 to $1 billion and take a decade to complete, said Neil Brausen, the body's manager of long-term planning. And the cost depends, in part, on whether Alberta consumers could take power from a system such as NorthernLights.
"We would want to have discussions with them to see to what extent it is possible (to) get mutual benefit out of the development," Brausen said.
If NorthernLights is for export alone, TransCanada would pay the entire bill, Brausen said. If Alberta consumers take some power, they would pay a portion of the system's costs.
"It's our mandate to look at the potential for the benefits" of NorthernLights, Brausen said, "but I wouldn't want to speculate on how we might achieve that."
One option would be to address the issue at regulatory hearings.
In December, Atco Electric applied to regulators to build a $100-million, 420-kilometre transmission line from Fort McMurray to Fort Saskatchewan, alongside two existing lines.
If approved by the Energy and Utilities Board this year, it will carry 290 megawatts of surplus power from the oilsands plants, starting next spring.
The Atco line isn't related to the TransCanada proposal, Atco vice-president Seth Policicchio said, and the power is for Alberta use.
Three years ago, the province began providing incentives for power companies to build plants in southern Alberta, where demand exceeds supply, rather than in northern Alberta. Calpine Energy Canada, for example, is commissioning a natural-gas plant near Calgary under that initiative.
The NorthernLights idea does not reverse that policy, Brausen said.
"The location of this generation is driven by the fuel source" -- the oilsands reserves.
Similarly, Epcor Inc. is expanding its Genesee facility west of Edmonton because that's where coal is most easily mined.


bavery@thejournal.southam.ca
© Copyright 2003 Edmonton Journal







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