February 23rd, 2024

Forced power shutdowns ‘very unlikely’ in the Hat

By COLLIN GALLANT on February 2, 2024.

A Hatter strolls by power lines that run through the north-end community of Parkview in this file photo. City officials are clarifying who has ultimate control over power use following a province-wide alert.--News Photo Collin Gallant


City administrators are clarifying who has ultimate control over operating the Medicine Hat power system following an emergency alert earlier this month and a flurry of questions from the public.

Two weeks ago as Alberta shuddered in the midst of record-breaking cold, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) made a public appeal to turn off unnecessary lights and delay using major appliances to reduce demand on the critically stretched system.

The city followed suit asking for local customers to conserve power, but that was met online by a number of critiques over the need, the city’s own use to operate facilities, profiteering and the potential for local blackout.

Energy division managing director Rochelle Pancoast told a committee meeting on Thursday her office has also been questioned about whether rolling blackouts, ordered by AESO to avoid a more widespread crash of the system, could be foisted upon the Hat.

“Ultimately there are different elements over who controls what and where,” she said. “Generally, we get to control what’s in our (franchise area).

“AESO would have the authority to order us to shed load (reduce local power delivery), but, as a net exporter, that would be very unlikely.”

Committee chair Coun. Darren Hirsch summed up, “We have capacity to serve our citizens and then some.”

The city power plant’s combined top generating capacity is 299 megawatts, and on Jan. 13 reached a record actual production on 284 megawatts, including a large undisclosed portion sold onto the Alberta grid.

At the same time, the city’s single largest power customer, Hut 8 Cryptocurrency reduced operations, the company told the News.

That is likely under a clause in its supply contract with the city, though neither side has commented.

At the same time, another crypto miner in the city told the News it shut down as part of a demand response agreement it has directly with AESO.

Pancoast said two regulatory bodies – AESO and the Alberta Utilities Commission – have authority over some aspects of the city’s operations as a power producer, distributor and retailer.

In practice, the shutdowns increased the power surplus, and allowed the city to put more power to the grid that was struggling in cold weather and the outage of several natural gas power plants in extreme conditions below -40C.

Pancoast said the fact the local plants kept operating and at high levels was a testament to maintenance and operations staff.

As for the financial aspect, manager of energy marketing and business analysis Travis Tuchscherer told the committee that overall, the Alberta grid price “was very solid in January,” and produced a whole-month average price of $154 per megawatt hour (15.4 cents per kilowatt hour) including spikes to $999 during the Jan. 14 weekend.

Pancoast also told committee the division would have a substantial update on the pending business review of the commodity business units at the next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 15.

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