ATCO Power may be moving away from coal sooner rather than later, and that could have an effect on the Sheerness power generation facilities near Hanna.
According to a National Post story published May 10, ATCO president and CEO Nancy Southern, indicated they are looking at “greening” its coal-fired power plants by 2020, far ahead of the Alberta government’s plan of phasing out coal by 2030.
“Our belief is that it makes sense to move to gasification of those coal plants now,” Southern is quoted in the story.
Hanna Mayor Chris Warwick says he has not had confirmation of the plans in Hanna, although he has heard this is in the works.
“What it means is we can plan better because we do have some timelines. I would be extremely surprised if they don’t convert this or build new, or a combination of both because you can’t shut all this coal down because we don’t have enough energy to fill that void.”
There are some differences in operations when they are converted. He explains that energy output could be lower with natural gas, however, in a coal operation, a portion of the power goes towards operating the plant.
“From what I am told the net result is close just by changing the burners out,” he said, adding the site is well suited with a natural gas pipeline in close proximity to the site.
While he sees there are positive aspects to converting the plant, it will not bring with it the same level of staffing as the current operations.
“Westmorland Coal Company has around 100 employees and ATCO has around 100, but there are about 20-30 jobs on the ATCO side that are dedicated to the coal portion of it. You need people to run the crushers and conveyors,” he said. “So there is a net loss of 120-130 people. “
“At least if they retool, our water supply is solidified and my understanding is even when the mine is shut down, the are several years of reclamation work to put the land back to the way it was. So there is still work to be had.”
He sees the development as both positive and negative. The most positive is that it appears that conversion is a real possibility.
“It is positive in the fact that now we know when it is happening. It is negative in that it is earlier than I anticipated,” he said. “From our point of view, it puts a little pressure on the government to start rolling out what the compensation packages are going to be for the coal affected communities. They are reaching out to us and we have good communication so that is a good sign.”