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TransAlta commits to phase out coal power years ahead of government deadline

CALGARY — TransAlta Corp. CEO Dawn Farrell says the company has committed to phase out its coal-fired power plants years ahead of Alberta government deadlines.

Speaking at the company's annual meeting Thursday, Farrell said the company will shut some coal units by 2018, while converting others to natural gas to be free of coal-fired power plants by the end of 2023, six years ahead of a deadline set by the provincial government.

The move comes after what the board of directors said was the most significant period in many years as the company reached an agreement with the Alberta government on compensation for phasing out coal.

The board awarded Farrell $2.73 million in incentive compensation as part of her $7.39 million total compensation for what it said was extraordinary leadership, but shareholders disagreed, voting Thursday against a non-binding resolution on the executive compensation plan with 53 per cent opposed.

The coal phase-out plan has TransAlta (TSX:TA) shutting down the 560 megawatts of generation from Sundance Unit 1 and 2 by the start of 2018, two years ahead of a federally required date, while applying to keep open the option of restarting Unit 2 between 2019 and 2021.

The company has also committed to convert three other Sundance units and two Keephills units, representing about 2,400 megawatts of capacity, from coal to gas by 2023, which it says will extend the life of the units into the mid-2030s.

Farrell said TransAlta would immediately start securing the up to 700 million cubic feet of gas per day that will be required to power the plants, including construction of a needed pipeline.

TransAlta is also working to move forward on its Brazeau hydro expansion project in Alberta, but because of a cap on the province's utility market share, Farrell said the company is looking elsewhere for other expansion projects.

The Alberta government has committed to phasing out coal-fired power plants by 2030, and has a target of 30 per cent of power coming from renewables by then.

Besides its Alberta assets, TransAlta also has generating capacity in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, as well as in the United States and Australia.

The Canadian Press

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