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Alberta utility TransAlta vows to be carbon neutral by 2050 as it notes $167M loss


CALGARY — Power generator TransAlta Corp. says it has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 60 per cent below 2015 levels by 2030.

The 2050 target means the company will fully offset all carbon dioxide released from its activities with avoided emissions or by capturing emissions, said chief operating officer John Kousinioris on a conference call to discuss the company's fourth-quarter results on Wednesday.

Kousinioris, who is to take over as CEO at the end of March from retiring CEO Dawn Farrell, added achieving the 2050 goal will not require game-changing new technologies.

"We talk about it as an aspirational goal, but we don't need ... out of the box technical solutions that are just kind of a twinkle in someone's eye to be able to get there. We see pathways to get there," he said.

The Calgary-based utility is in the process of retiring its Edmonton-area thermal coal mining operations and converting all of its coal power generation in Canada to natural gas by the end of 2021, while eliminating its last coal generation unit at a facility in Washington State by the end of 2025.

It completed the conversion of one of its Alberta coal power units to natural gas earlier this month and plans to convert three more this year at a cost of about $35 million each.

Those units will reach the end of their expected life in the mid- to late-2030s, Kousinioris said.

TransAlta has cut its emissions by about 60 per cent since 2005, but Farrell said on the call those advances haven't helped the overall national emissions picture.

"All of TransAlta's heavy lifting has been taken up by other emissions," she said, adding Canada needs to invest about $20 billion a year in carbon reduction to meet its goal of a 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2030.

She called on the federal government to invest heavily in carbon capture and storage, carbon utilization, and hydrogen and carbon transportation solutions in Alberta.

TransAlta reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $167 million on revenue of $544 million for the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with a net profit of $66 million on $609 million in the same period of 2019.

Analysts had expected a loss of $102 million on revenue of $492 million, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

The 2020 losses were affected by depreciation and writeoffs related to TransAlta's accelerated coal-to-gas power plant conversions and the coal mine shutdown.

It's fourth-quarter comparable earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were $234 million, compared with $243 million for the same period in 2019.

TransAlta said it expects EBITDA in 2021 of between $960 million and $1.08 billion, up from full-year 2020's $927 million, due to stronger power prices. 

ATB Capital Markets analyst Nate Heywood in a report that the guidance exceeded both his and consensus expectations.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:TA, TSX:RNW)

Dan Healing, The Canadian Press

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