FEATURE // SWiTching OFF cOAl The Pumped-Storage Approach Free power was promised early in the nuclear age — or at least so cheap it would not need to be metered. But the quest for cheap energy has been a long one, as electricity is not simple to generate and is even harder to store. A pumped-storage hydropower facility moves water from a lower reservoir back up to an upper storage area, generating power as required, with electricity purchased from the grid in off hours when electricity is less costly. As a result, the project works much like a rechargeable battery, providing firming capacity so that the grid functions reliably. Brazeau Hydro Facility in Drayton Valley, Alberta, Canada. (TransAlta) Alberta’s 60-year-old hydroelectric facility at the Brazeau Dam is an excellent candidate for pumped storage. Geography, prescient planning and government collaboration support a Brazeau pumped-storage expansion project. It will include another dam, a new canal and penstocks, turbines and generators, and will creatively employ the old river canyon for storage. Though the original 1960s-era Brazeau generation station boasts a 355-MW capacity, it operates at less than 15 percent of capacity due to limited, natural water flow from the glaciers, groundwater, snow and rain. By recycling the water during off hours, the proposed pumped-storage expansion will reuse the hydro fuel source — another first in the Canadian West. The new facilities could expand generation capacity to 600–900 MW of power, which is enough to provide electricity to all the homes in a city the size of Calgary or Edmonton — communities with more than a million people. The innovative, pumped-storage project at Brazeau will build on existing infrastructure. The reservoir and canal will serve the new project. The lower reservoir, or Brazeau River Gorge — which runs parallel to the canal — will store water flowing through a new generating station behind a new dam. The project will also involve a new waterway from the canal and penstocks. Construction could begin in 2021, once permits and a long-term generating contract with the province are in place. By 2025, the $2.5 billion project could provide affordable power and stability for the Alberta power grid as the province ramps up renewables. The Brazeau expansion will produce electricity for approximately $3,000 per kilowatt-hour, or a third to half of the cost of comparable, new hydro construction. With 27 hydro facilities in its fleet, and a capacity of 936 MW in 2017, TransAlta is well positioned to introduce hydro pumped storage to the Canadian West. Electricity Program. Successful low-cost bidders will receive a 20-year contract to supply renewable power. In June of 2017, TransAlta entered three wind project proposals into the Alberta government auction for renewable power. The province also decided to move from energy-only electricity marketing to a capacity market system. When implemented in 2024, it will provide an incentive for construction of renewables, ensure long-term contracts for power, and add an element of investment stability to the electricity system in Alberta. huge goals and a short timeline “My job now is to accelerate our transformation from old world to new world — from coal to gas and renewables — from an Alberta company to Canada’s leading clean power company,” said Farrell. For a 106-year-old company, it’s moving pretty fast. Western Energy / Fall 2017 / westernenergy.org/we DAviD FinCh is a public units at thermal plants to natural gas — reducing their emissions by 40 percent. Public policy decisions are a major driver too. Alberta’s carbon price — $20 per ton in 2017 and increasing to $30 in 2018 — also provides an economic incentive to reduce emissions. The Canadian government has a plan for a national carbon price as well. In March 2017, Alberta began the competitive process to purchase electricity as part of its Renewable 36 historian and has helped prepare TransAlta’s centennial publication, “Power Generations: The TransAlta Story, 1911-2011.” He is the author of more than 20 books on the history of the Canadian West.