|This article is part of the CoalSwarm coverage of Canada.|
TransAlta Corporation is a Canadian power generation and wholesale energy marketing company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. The company generates electricity through coal, natural gas, water, geothermal energy and wind, and sells it to wholesale customers in various regions of Canada, the U.S., and Australia. TransAlta is comprised by two principal operating entities: TransAlta Generation Partnership, a general partnership, and TransAlta Energy Marketing Corp. TransAlta trades on the Toronto (TSX: TA) and New York (NYSE: TAC) stock exchanges.
Centralia plant emissions
In April 2009, TransAlta Corp. agreed to reduce mercury and nitrogen oxide emissions at its Centralia Power Plant. Washington's only coal-fired power plant will reduce mercury pollution by 50 percent and its NOx pollution by 20 percent in 2009. The company estimates the reductions will cost between $20 million and $30 million.
The deal was brokered confidentially by officials from Governor Gregoire's office and the state Ecology Department. Critics say the process should have gone through public channels, and that the cuts called for by the agreement are too small and enable the plant to continue adding smog to the region. Keith Phillips, the governor's environmental policy advisor, has promised a public hearing before the deal is signed.
On September 28, 2009 Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, filed an appeal to challenge the renewal of an air pollution permit for the TransAlta coal-fired plant located in Centralia, Washington. The groups are asking for tighter controls on nitrogen oxide emissions from the plant.
Doug Howell, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Northwest campaign commented:
- In Washington state, TransAlta, as the number one source of global warming, mercury and haze pollution, has had a free ride for too long. This old, filthy coal-fired plant must be seen for what it is and now is the time to hold the coal plant accountable to fulfill its obligations to address known pollutants to protect our health, environment and economy.
On January 25, 2010 the Washington legislature introduced a bill that would eliminate a state tax exemption for Washington's only coal-fired power plant in Centralia. The TransAlta Corporation, based in Canada, currently receives a tax break of about $4 million annually. The tax break, enacted in the 1990s, was passed in exchange for the plant to burn locally mined coal. However, the Centralia coal mine closed in 2006. Proponents of the legislation argue that TransAlta is receiving tax breaks despite "violating [Washington's] stated energy policies". 
In early February 2011, Washington state lawmaker Marko Liias proposed a bill that would require the Centralia plant to be shut by December 31, 2015, or by December 31, 2017, if Bonneville Power Administration determines the unit is needed until then for reliability reasons. The lawmaker stated that the plant was harmful to human and environmental health. A spokesperson for the plant stated that such a time line was not feasible. 
Opponents of Centralia plant rally in State capitol
Opponents of the Centralia plant in Washington state squared off in the Olympia on February 16, 2011 over how quickly Washington's only coal plant should stop burning coal.
Environmentalists rallied support for House Bill 1825, which would transition the coal-fired plant off coal by 2015. Another measure in the Senate has set a 2020 deadline. TransAlta, which operates the plant, stated it must operate the facility until 2025 to protect jobs and provide enough time to bring cleaner resources on line.
TransAlta supporters also held a rally in Olympia to raise their concerns.
TransAlta to phase out coal boilers in Washington state
It was announced on March 5, 2011 that a bill to close two coal boilers at a TransAlta's plant Centralia Power Plant, and phase out coal-fired power in Washington state is set to go to state lawmakers under a deal between the company and state Governor Christine Gregoire.
One coal boiler in Centralia will be shut no later than the end of December 2020 and the other by the end of December 2025 under terms of the reported agreement, which will allow TransAlta to sell long-term contracts for coal-fired power to help finance a transition to gas-fueled energy, a statement from the governor's office stated. The agreement will also require TransAlta to install air pollution control technology to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides at its Centralia plant starting in 2013.
Bill to move TransAlta off of coal signed by Governor
On April 11, 2011 the Washington State House of Representatives voted overwhelming to approved Senate Bill 5769, which would shut down one of two boilers at the TransAlta coal-fired plant by 2020 and phase out coal-burning by 2025. TransAlta, state officials and environmental groups negotiated a deal in March 2011 to close the plant in Centralia. The measure requires the company to provide $55 million for economic development and other assistance, and to install additional air pollution controls called scrubbers to further reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides at the plant.
In exchange, TransAlta would be allowed enter into long-term agreements to sell its electricity to other utilities, which is currently prohibited by state law.
Lawmakers in the House made mostly technical changes to the bill, which passed by an 87-9 vote. The bill was later passed by the Washington State Senate.
On May 3, 2011, Governor Chris Gregoire signed legislation today that will close the plant by 2025. It was also reported that natural gas was being discussed as the replacement fuel for the TransAlta plant.
Text of SB 5769 here
Transalta is a member of the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), an umbrella lobbying group for all coal ash interests that includes major coal burners Duke Energy, Southern Company and American Electric Power as well as dozens of other companies. The group argues that the so-called "beneficial-use industry" would be eliminated if a "hazardous" designation was given for coal ash waste.
Coal Projects Sponsored by TransAlta
TransAlta owns at least 50 power plants in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. Together they produce 8,460 MW of power. Nine of these plants use coal as fuel.
- Centralia Power Plant, Washington State, U.S.
- Centralia coal mine, Washington State, U.S.
- Highvale coal mine, Edmonton, Alberta
- Whitewood coal mine, Edmonton, Alberta
- Sheerness coal mine, Hanna, Alberta
- Genesee 3, Genessee, Alberta
- Keephills, Wabamun, Alberta
- Sheerness, Hanna, Alberta
- Sundance, Wabamun, Alberta
Closing Sundance units 1 and 2
In February 2011, TransAlta said it will be closing operations at two of the Sundance coal-fired units because repairs would be too costly. The Sundance 1 and 2 units have been down since December 2010. The units comprise 560 MW of the 2,126 MW Sundance power plant, which operates as a baseload facility for the Alberta electricity system.
The closing of the units could cost consumers more than $200 million in unrealized refunds through Alberta’s Balancing Pool. The agency that oversees power purchase agreements would have to pay that amount to TransAlta as net book value of the plants and to TransCanada as partial payment on the remainder of its contract. TransCanada holds the Sundance units' power purchase agreement and expects reimbursement.
Proposed Coal Projects Sponsored by TransAlta
- Keephills 3, Genessee, Alberta
Proposed carbon capture projects
Board of Directors
- Donna Soble Kaufman (Chair)
- William D. Anderson
- Stanley J. Bright
- Timothy W. Faithfull
- Gordon G. Giffin
- C. Kent Jepersen
- Michael M. Kanovsky
- Gordon S. Lackenbauer
- Dr. Martha C. Piper
- Luis Vasquez Senties
Box 1900, Station “M”
110 – 12 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB CANADA
Tel: (403) 267-7110
- "State's only coal power plant to reduce emissions," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 3, 2009.
- "State's secret deal with coal plant sparks outcry," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 7, 2009.
- "Groups Challenge WA Coal Plant’s Permit Renewal", Public News Service, September 30, 2009.
- Earthjustice Appeals TransAlta Permit, The Chronicle Online, September 29, 2009.
- Chris Thomas, "Lawmakers Seek to 'Strip-Mine' Tax Break from WA Coal Plant" Lake Stevens Journal, January 25, 2010.
- "Washington lawmaker offers bill to shut Centralia plant as early as 2015" Platts.com, February 3, 2011.
- "Opponents square off over Wash.'s coal-fired plant" Associated Press, February 15, 2011.
- "TransAlta to phase out coal boilers in Wash. state" Reuters, March 5, 2011.
- "Bill moves Wash. plant off coal by 2025" Phuong Le, Associated Press, April 11, 2011.
- "Washington State to Close Coal Plants, Offshore Oil Drilling Comes to Vote" SustainableBusiness.com, May 3, 2011.
- "Natural Gas Most Likely To Replace Coal At Big Power Plant " Tom Banse, Oregon Public Broadcast, May 1, 2011.
- Coal-Fired Utilities to American Public: Kiss my Ash DeSmogBlog.com & PolluterWatch, October 27, 2010.
- “Our Plants”, TransAlta site, accessed April 2009.
- "TransAlta issues notice of termination for Sundance units" Power-Gen, Feb. 10, 2011.
Related SourceWatch articles
- Phuong Le, "Wash. says deal will cut pollution at coal plant," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 10, 2009.
- Kathy Durbin, "Sierra Club Organizes Effort to Close Coal Fired Plant in Centralia," The Columbian, April 25, 2010