Alberta hires ex-energy exec as point person for plan to transition off coal

Alberta has hired a retired U.S. electricity executive to work with industry to draw up a plan to move the province off coal-fired electricity generation.

EDMONTON — Alberta has hired a retired U.S. electricity executive to work with industry to draw up a plan to move the province off coal-fired electricity generation.

Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous announced Wednesday that Terry Boston will be paid up to $600,000 and will report by September.

“I’m confident that Mr. Boston will be tough but fair, recognizing the need to protect consumers, taxpayers, workers, and communities while respecting the need to provide certainty and fairness to both companies and their investors,” Bilous told reporters at the legislature.

Boston, who is from Tennessee, recently retired as the head of PJM Interconnection, which is the second largest centrally dispatched power system in the world.

“He is the best in the business and this is why we wanted to bring him on as a facilitator,” said Bilous.

Boston was not at the news conference and was not immediately available for comment.

As part of its climate change plan, Alberta is shutting down coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Twelve of Alberta’s 18 coal-fired generating units are already expected to be shut down by then, so the focus of Boston’s work will be on the remaining six.

By 2030, the plan is to have two-thirds of Alberta’s coal generation capacity replaced by renewable energy. One third will be replaced by natural gas.

There are eight coal mines operating in Alberta. Five mines produce coal for the province’s electricity sector.

Bilous said at the same time he will be working and meeting with people in the communities affected when the transition from coal happens.

“(We’re) looking at different options, whether that’s through potential training or retraining (of workers) but also looking at opportunities within existing communities,” said Bilous.

In 2013 the electricity sector accounted for 17 per cent of Alberta’s total GHG emissions. Most of that came from coal-fired generation.

The opposition Wildrose party is calling for the province to complete a full economic analysis to make sure that the grid changes don’t send power prices soaring or lead to massive job losses.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said he is skeptical of the outcome.

“No matter what happens, no matter who is directing traffic as far as what amount is going to be paid, we know that consumers are ultimately going to have it all downloaded on them,” said Jean.

“(That) means our power costs are going to be significantly higher than what they are right now.”

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