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Alberta’s move to green energy seen adding $7 billion in power company debt

Alberta, the nation’s largest provincial carbon polluter, will need to replace about 6,000 megawatts of coal generation capacity with cleaner fuel sources such as wind and natural gas to meet the government’s deadline for 30 per cent renewable energy and to rid the province of coal by 2030. Half of that new power is expected to be financed by debt.

Canada’s dirtiest province is cleaning up its act, and that’s expected to result in $7 billion (US$5.2 billion) in new debt from power companies such as TransAlta Corp. to fund green energy projects in the coming years.

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Alberta, the nation’s largest provincial carbon polluter, will need to replace about 6,000 megawatts of coal generation capacity with cleaner fuel sources such as wind and natural gas to meet the government’s deadline for 30 per cent renewable energy and to rid the province of coal by 2030. Half of that new power is expected to be financed by debt, said Stephen Goltz, a Toronto-based credit analyst at Standard & Poor’s said.

While investors are hungry for long-term assets like electricity generation, lenders will likely need to see government support for renewable energy before taking a wager on companies already suffering from weak power prices and the risk of stranded assets.

“These are long-term projects that are highly finance-able like other major long-life predictable infrastructure,” said Robert Mark, director of research at money managers MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier Inc. in Toronto. “Markets want to lend to this kind of project and tend to be highly skewed to debt. That’s because investors want that and rating agencies approve of them.”

Carbon Price

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley unveiled last month sweeping changes to the province’s climate policy, including the faster transition from coal to more renewable and natural-gas power; an economy-wide carbon price and a cap on oilsands emissions. Coal currently generates more than half of the province’s electricity and the government plans to use renewable energy certificates to provide an incentive for companies to build new wind turbines and install solar panels.

Alberta’s largest generators TransAlta and Capital Power Corp., along with city-owned utilities Enmax Corp. and Epcor Utilities Inc., already have more than $8 billion in outstanding notes, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Both TransAlta and competitor Capital Power are rated BBB- by S&P, one step above non-investment grade. TransCanada Corp., which owns more than 11,000 megawatts of generation in other parts of Canada and the U.S., is rated A-, while Enbridge Inc., with more than 2,000 megawatts of renewable power capacity, has a BBB+ rating.

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