TransAlta Corporation ("TransAlta" or the "Company") (TSX: TA) (NYSE: TAC) today (Nov 4) reported its financial results for the quarter ended Sept. 30, 2020.
"TransAlta's third quarter delivered excellent results from strategic, operational and financial perspectives. We continued to advance our climate leadership strategy and added Alberta's first utility-scale battery storage project, WindCharger, to our sizable hydro and wind fleet," said Dawn Farrell, President and Chief Executive Officer. "TransAlta has been a leader in emissions reductions in Alberta since 2005 and we will continue to use this expertise to serve customers with low-cost, reliable, green electricity."
"In another major milestone, our Board approved closing the Highvale Mine by Dec. 31, 2021, four years ahead of our original off-coal schedule for this mine. This decision demonstrates how we continue to lead our industry in achieving ESG milestones on an accelerated basis. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the front-line employees of SunHills Mining who have worked tirelessly to provide exceptional service since the 1950s."
Below are additional highlights from the quarter regarding how TransAlta is advancing its Clean Energy Investment Plan, how it is working toward greater diversity and inclusion, how the Company is managing COVID-19, as well as more details regarding the Company's liquidity and financial position.
Conversion to Gas
The Company will discontinue all mining operations at Highvale Mine by Dec. 31, 2021. Effective Jan. 1, 2022, the Company will cease coal-fired generation in Canada. TransAlta's Keephills Unit 1 and Sundance Unit 4 will discontinue firing with coal and will only operate on gas, resulting in the maximum capability of these units being reduced to 70 MW and 113 MW, respectively, effective Jan. 1, 2022. The Company continues to evaluate these units as candidates for boiler conversion or full repowering based on market fundamentals.
TransAlta's conversion programs are underway. The Company commenced the conversion outage of Sundance Unit 6 during the quarter and is on-track to complete the project by mid-Nov. 2020. The Company continues to advance the conversions of its Keephills Unit 2 and Unit 3 planned for 2021 and has issued Full Notice to Proceed for both units. During the third quarter of 2020, the Sundance Unit 5 repowering project received Board approval and is on-track to reach commercial operation in the fourth quarter of 2023.
In furtherance of the Company's natural gas fuel supply needs for the converted units, TransAlta has long-term natural gas delivery transportation agreements with NGTL, bringing the cumulative total of new and existing pipeline transportation service to the Company's generating facilities up to 400 terajoules ("TJ") per day by 2023. TransAlta's current commitments, including its 139 TJ/day supply arrangement with Tidewater, will remain in place until the closing of the Pioneer Transaction. The Pioneer Transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals, which are currently expected to be obtained in the second quarter of 2021.
WindCharger Battery Storage
TransAlta announced that its 10 MW/20 MWh WindCharger Battery Storage project began commercial operation on Oct. 15, 2020. This project has a total capital cost of approximately $14 million, with approximately 50 per cent being funded through the support of Emissions Reduction Alberta. TransAlta will pay TransAlta Renewables Inc. a fixed monthly capacity charge for the right to operate and dispatch the battery in the Alberta market.
Construction activities on the Windrise Wind project continues to advance with all appropriate procedures in place to protect the construction team during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project is approximately 45 per cent complete (as at Sept. 30, 2020) and the construction schedule has been modified to reflect a COVID-19-related delay in the delivery of the wind turbine components. The Company plans to complete construction and commissioning in the second half of 2021. This project began receiving wind turbine generators on site in mid-Oct. 2020.
The Company has advanced the Kaybob Cogeneration project, including the purchase of the reciprocating engine generator, generator step-up transformers, electrical building, and switchgear.
Diversity and Inclusion
The Board has adopted a Diversity and Inclusion Pledge that commits the Company to advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. By committing to this pledge, the Company will seek to remove systemic barriers that may prevent diverse employees from thriving, including visible minorities, Indigenous people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons with disabilities, and women. The persistent inequities around the world underscore the urgent need to address and alleviate racial, ethnic, and other tensions, to remove barriers that perpetuate these inequalities and to promote an inclusive working environment for all employees. TransAlta firmly believes that true diversity is good for the economy, it improves corporate performance, drives growth, and enhances employee engagement. The Diversity and Inclusion Pledge acknowledges these challenges and seeks to: (i) encourage conversations about diversity and inclusion within the workplace; (ii) expand education regarding diversity, equality and inclusion; (iii) create best practices that result in the establishment of programs and initiatives relating to diversity and inclusion within the workplace; and (iv) drive accountability by regularly reporting and evaluating the success of the Company's programs and initiatives.
COVID-19 Response Update
The Company continued to implement its business continuity plan which ensured that: (i) employees who could work remotely did so; and (ii) employees who operate and maintain our facilities, and who were not able to work remotely, were able to work safely and in a manner that ensured they remained healthy. During the third quarter of 2020, the Company successfully brought employees who were working remotely back to the office without sacrificing health and safety standards. The Company's facilities also remain fully operational and capable of meeting its customers' needs. All of the Company's offices and sites follow strict health screening and physical distancing protocols with personal protective equipment readily available. TransAlta maintains travel restrictions aligned to local jurisdictional guidance, enhanced cleaning procedures, revised work schedules, and other measures to protect staff and contractors. The Company continues to work and serve all of its customers and counterparties under the terms of the relevant contracts. TransAlta has not experienced interruptions to service requirements. Electricity and steam supply continue to remain a critical service requirement to all of the Company's customers and have been deemed an essential service in all of the jurisdictions in which TransAlta operates.
Liquidity and Financial Position
The Company continues to maintain a strong financial position in part due to our long-term contracts and hedged positions. At the end of the third quarter 2020, TransAlta had access to $1.6 billion in liquidity, including $270 million of cash and cash equivalents. Subsequent to the quarter, the Company raised approximately $1.1 billion in additional liquidity to support its gas conversions and renewables construction. The Company is currently positioned with approximately $2.7 billion in liquidity.
In October, TransAlta completed an AU$800 million senior secured note offering, which is secured among other things, a first ranking charge over all assets of its South Hedland Power Station. The Company also received $400 million from the second tranche of financing from the Brookfield investment. In addition, TransAlta has access to additional capital through potential project financing of existing assets that are currently unencumbered. The Company expects to utilize existing cash and credit facilities for the debt maturing in 2020 and expects to refinance the debt maturing in 2022.
The Company also has approximately 90 per cent of its Alberta thermal baseload merchant generation hedged at approximately $53 per MWh for the remainder of 2020.