Alberta's dual-fired fleet could be switching back to coal
By Richard Frey / Platts
Petroleumworld 11 12 2021
Weekly Canadian Observer looked Alberta's 'coal' and gas plants and found that there was little sign of the coal plants ramping up at the expense of gas plants
This feature targets just the 'coal' fleet, which can burn gas or coal currently, and finds that higher AECO prices could be driving these plants to burn less gas and more coal
As AECO cash prices have risen in recent months, there are signs that Alberta's coal fleet, which is made up of coal plants transitioning to gas and can burn either fuel as they transition through 2023, could be switching back to burning more coal.
Demand on the NGTL system rose sharply this summer over summer 2020. The graph below breaks down the gains into four categories:
"Total NGTL" in the blue line. This is NGTL demand as reported on the company's Gas Day Summary Report
Oil Sands demand. This is deliveries to NGTL's Oil Sands Delivery Area (OSDA) as posted in its Daily Operations Plan (DOP).
Non-oil sands power demand. This is S&P Global Platts' modeled power demand for gas plants that are not in the OSDA. This is based on AESO data and assumed heat rates for the type of gas plant and its load factor. This does not include any of the coal plants that are converting to gas.
"Other" in the yellow line is demand increases that cannot be explained by the other three categories above. Since we took out all the coal plants entirely from this analysis, this "other" section could be these coal plants burning more gas than coal and boosting NGTL demand.
The months to focus on in the graph are primarily July, August and September (October was considerably warmer this summer than last, so it distorts the demand picture). We can see this "other" yellow section peaked in August when gas prices were at their lowest but then fell in September as AECO prices increased. Population-weighted temperatures in Western Canada were identical in September 2021 to September 2020, so weather likely isn't the cause here.
This would be a bearish trend for AECO basis this winter, as high cash prices across North America could price some gas generation out of the power market this winter even with wide AECO basis differentials, and mean AECO needs to price lower to push more into the US Midwest.
It should be noted, however, that the Alberta demand market is relatively opaque, so it is tough to come to any firm conclusions about what this disappearing yellow "other" section means. However, AECO's winter 21-22 strip traded at an average US$4.35/MMBtu in October, which was higher than any month this summer. This means that the potential for reduced gas burns are a factor to keep an eye on this winter.
By Richard Frey from S&P Global Platts
spglobal.com 11 12 2021