The province is trying again to pass a bill that would allow all Alberta companies to store an unlimited amount of power and sell excess electricity back into the grid as a way of eventually helping to lower the cost of bills, it says.
Bill 22, the Electricity Statutes (Modernizing Alberta’s Electricity Grid) Amendment Act, would update a handful of laws that govern energy storage, sale and transmission in Alberta. It is nearly identical to a bill that was tabled last year but died on the order paper when the session of the legislature ended.
Currently in Alberta, exporting power is only allowed in a few specific situations including small producers such as homes with solar panels and some industrial sites. Municipalities also have the ability to generate and store their own power.
The new bill would open up the option to the rest of the province which natural gas and electricity associate minister Dale Nally believes will eventually lower power costs for everyone.
“This legislation will help create more investment and competition leading to more supply and increased affordability for consumers over the long term,” Nally said at a press conference before the bill was tabled Wednesday.
“The end result will be an electricity system that is better able to meet the evolving needs of consumers for years to come and create a low carbon future through investment from Alberta’s industries rather than costly subsidies from taxpayers.”
The changes come at a time when utility bills around the province are soaring. Nally could not provide specifics for how much power he hoped would be brought onto the grid as a result of the new legislation, saying that it would be market-driven.
He said the government is making other moves to improve affordability, pointing to promised rebates in power and natural gas that are still working their way through the legislative process.
After a similar bill was tabled by the government last November, Nally said the government realized it needed to do more consultation with stakeholders who expressed concerns about changes after having invested in the current system.
Under the new bill. companies working under the current system will be able to continue that way.
“We needed to create a level playing field where those companies that have made those investments were not going to be disadvantaged,” Nally said.
NDP energy critic Kathleen Ganley said the Opposition supports adding more energy storage to the grid and has been consulting on ways to achieve a net-zero grid by 2035. She criticized the government for not passing the bill the first time it was tabled.
“They’ve delayed making simple changes to the grid that could actually provide long-term relief for Albertans with utility costs. Simply put, the UCP can’t be trusted to manage our electricity grid or to protect our pocketbooks,” she said.
Assuming the new bill is passed, Nally said he hoped to have the required regulations completed by the end of the year.
The Alberta Electrical System Operator will have the authority to place tariffs on companies that want to participate in the system but Nally said he is not expecting tariffs on day one.
“They will be watching and monitoring, as is the job of the Alberta Electrical System Operator and if they see that there is a shift of cost … going from industry to the ratepayer then they would look at bringing in a tariff down the road,” he said.
Starting the process for draining the balancing pool
The Alberta government has promised to do away with the balancing pool, a government agency meant to backstop power purchase arrangements created when Alberta’s electricity industry was deregulated in the late 1990s, by 2030.
Bill 22 would begin the process by transferring programs and initiatives run through the pool to other government departments and agencies.
For example, the small scale generation program would be assigned to the Alberta Electric System Operator, the administration of the Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) program and associated revenues would be transferred to the Treasury Board and Finance and funding of the utilities consumer advocate would be facilitated by the Alberta Utilities Commission.
It is unclear how the pool’s expenses and debt will be paid off. Last week the government released a year-old review highlighting $1.3 billion in pool losses over four years.