Power producer TransAlta looking at reviving carbon capture and storage plans

CALGARY – TransAlta Corp. (TSX:TA) may take another run at adding carbon capture technology to one of its Alberta coal plants, its CEO said Tuesday.

“It’s more than a glint in our eye,” Dawn Farrell told reporters following the power generator’s annual general meeting. But at this point, there are no solid plans ready to be approved, she said.

Farrell said the company is contemplating capturing greenhouse gases from its Sundance plant 70 kilometres west of Edmonton — Western Canada’s largest coal-fired electrical generating facility — and selling the gas to oil producers in the province. Those producers would inject the gas into mature fields in order to coax more oil out.

About three years ago, TransAlta and its partners abandoned plans to build Project Pioneer, a $1.4-billion carbon capture project planned at TransAlta’s Keephills 3 plant.

The provincial and federal governments were to take on some of the financial burden of Pioneer, touting carbon capture technology as a key way to combat climate change.

But Farrell said any new carbon capture undertaking would have to be economically feasible without government money.

“I think those days are behind us,” she said. “It would have to be an economic project to go forward.”

The issue for Pioneer was that, at the time, there wasn’t enough demand from oil companies to use the gas for that purpose when they were able to churn out so much crude by using fracking.

“We just couldn’t find a producer that was willing to make the investment, but as people get through sort of their fracking dollars, they’re now starting to look at reservoirs that would work with CO2,” said Farrell.

“They tend to be different. You don’t frack those reservoirs and so that’s why it’s starting to come back up as a possibility now.”

Also on Tuesday, TransAlta said it had cut the workforce in its Canadian coal generating unit by 20 per cent in an effort to save money.

It said 164 positions have already been eliminated as a result of the reorganization, but only 27 were full-time layoffs. The rest were through attrition, retirements and reassignments.

The move wasn’t made in response to market conditions — such as the downturn in oil prices that has had far-reaching impacts in Alberta — but rather to boost efficiency.

The company says it expects to save $12 million annually.

It incurred about $7 million in restructuring costs during the first three months of 2015.

Farrell also said TransAlta is on the hunt for acquisitions — particularly renewable power generations throughout the United States.

During the first quarter, TransAlta posted net earnings attributable to common shareholders of $26 million, down from $47 million a year earlier.

Revenue was $593 million compared with $775 million in the same period in 2014.

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