Alberta power demand surges over Christmas cold snap

Demand in Calgary wasn’t quite as high, according to ENMAX

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Alberta’s holiday deep freeze pushed demand for electricity near record highs, according to the provincial electrical operator.


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The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) said Monday power consumption over the past week reached a high point on Dec. 23, with 11,620 megawatts used.

That’s only 109 MW, or about one per cent shy of the previous all-time one-day peak of 11,729 MW used, during this February’s polar vortex.

Strain on the power grid during the deep freeze prompted the AESO to declare an energy emergency alert level 2 at 7:30 p.m. Monday, with the extreme weather affecting the operations of some power generation facilities.

The alert means power service is being maintained for all customers, but reserves are being used to supply energy requirements. EPCOR said on Twitter Albertans can help by reducing their use of major appliances, like dishwashers or laundry machines.


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AESO spokesperson Leif Sollid said operators have maintained grid reliability during the cold snap and the system has remained in good shape, but that demand is expected to stay high in the coming days.

“The five-day forecast shows most of Alberta will remain below -15 C. This means power consumption will remain near peak levels,” Sollid said. “Obviously things can change and that is why we have highly trained operators working 24/7 for Albertans.”

Demand in Calgary wasn’t quite as high, according to ENMAX.

Electricity demand in the city peaked at 1,483 MW around 5 p.m. Boxing Day, with a slightly lower peak anticipated Monday. Those are well below Calgary’s all-time winter peak of 1,653 MW, set on Dec. 2, 2013, as well as the all-time summer high of 1,793 MW set on June 29 of this year, after a heat dome settled on Western Canada.


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The holiday period contributed to comparatively lower electricity usage, ENMAX said.

“For comparison, the previous extreme cold warning on February 7-12, 2021 had higher average peaks, around 1,500-1,520 MW,” ENMAX said. “This is because electricity demand is typically lower during the holiday period compared to a typical work week.”

The utility company added that for every 10-degree drop below 0 C, the average home uses 40 per cent more natural gas and eight per cent more electricity.

Though Calgary faced a blistering cold over the Christmas weekend, low temperatures didn’t approach historical records for the holidays. The record lows on Dec. 25 and Dec. 26 are -35 C and -35.6 C, respectively, both set in 1886; Calgary hit -26.8 C this Christmas and -28.8 C on Boxing Day this year.


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“So we’re a fair ways off any record lows,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Justin Patton.

The District Energy Centre in downtown Calgary was photographed while Alberta is under an extreme cold warning on Monday, December 27, 2021.
The District Energy Centre in downtown Calgary was photographed while Alberta is under an extreme cold warning on Monday, December 27, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Outside of Calgary, some parts of Alberta did log record-breaking lows Sunday and Monday. That includes Airdrie, with a low of -40.6 C Monday, and Pincher Creek, which hit -35.9 C Monday.

Frigid temperatures are expected to remain through most of the week before increasing to a high of -2 C Saturday, Patton said. But the mercury is forecasted to drop again in the first week of the new year following that reprieve.

“From Sunday until at least mid-week the following week it looks like we’re again stuck in another cold spell,” he said.

Calgary remained under an extreme cold warning Monday afternoon, with Environment and Climate Change Canada warning frostbite can develop in minutes. Monday saw a high of -28 C, with wind chill near -40 C. Tuesday’s forecasted high is -17 C, with a wind chill of -33 C in the morning and -25 C in the afternoon.


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The cold stretch has led to the closure of some outdoor activities,  including Zoolights at the Calgary Zoo and the ski and snowboard hill at Canada Olympic Park.

Meanwhile, other events are trucking on through the glacial temperatures. That includes the annual Tim Hortons Western Canada Pond Hockey Championships on Chestermere Lake, which will start Tuesday after a one-day delay.

“We suspect our spectator audience will be down a bit this year due to the weather, but it’s refreshing to say it is due to weather and not from COVID-19,” said event chair Alex Halat in a news release.

Twitter: @jasonfherring



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