An iconic piece of the east-central Alberta landscape could get a new lease on life, if the current owner’s plans come to fruition.
The Battle River Power Plant sits nestled in the valley running in between Paintearth and Flagstaff Counties, just off of Highway 855. Though the physical structure is set in the valley, the stacks of the facility can be seen for kilometres around.
Originally built in 1956, and operated by Atco Power, the power generating station started life as a coal-powered generating station in conjunction with Paintearth Mine. The shovels which loaded the haulers can still be seen off of Highway 855.
The facility was purchased in 2019, along with several other assets around Alberta, by Heartland Generation.
Within two years, the facility was fully converted and operating off natural gas, “well ahead of regulatory requirements,” Shana Boyd, director of energy transition for Heartland Generation, said.
The impact of switching the facility from coal to natural gas reduces the green house gas emissions of the facility by 4.5 million tonnes per year, a decrease of around half.
“It was a pretty big step,” said Boyd.
The question remained, where did the organization go next?
“The government is looking at the electricity sector to lead.”
Thanks to a grant through Emissions Reduction Alberta, the path forward may be more clear, and extend the life of the aging facility in the process.
Preliminary work has been started on converting the Battle River Power Plant into a hydrogen producing, and burning, facility.
The facility would integrate a mix of old equipment and new. The new equipment would produce hydrogen from natural gas.
While carbon dioxide, a green house gas, would be formed in the creation of the hydrogen, those emissions would be sequestered underground.
“It’s technically challenging to capture carbon-dioxide off the stacks,” said Boyd.
“With hydrogen, you do it before you burn it.”
The old equipment would be converted to burn the hydrogen, with the only byproduct of that reaction being an environmentally safe dihydrogen monoxide, better known as water.
“There would be very low emissions for the site,” said Boyd.
With a hydrogen production and carbon sequestration facility on the site in addition to the power generation facility, Boyd sees the potential project as being a net positive within the region. Withe the added equipment and facilities at the site, Boyd anticipates seeing staffing increases, not cuts.
Boyd also sees the plant being a vital part of the region for at least another three decades.
“We don’t see a reason to shut it down,” said Boyd.
The funding through Emissions Reduction Alberta is helping cover the cost of the front-end engineering work that will be required to connect the pieces of the site together. The overall project would be funded through a variety of other sources.
“We plan to continue providing reliable base-load power that helps form the grid and be as cost effective as we can using existing transmission systems,” said Boyd.
Depending on permitting approvals, funding, and a few other “moving pieces,” the best case scenario for the conversion to be complete at the site is the end of 2026 or early 2027, meeting the company’s mandate of “decarbonization in a decade.”
The Battle River Power Plant is currently licenced to produce up to 540 MW of power for the Alberta energy grid.