February 14, 2019 9:16 pm
Updated: February 14, 2019 9:19 pm

Alberta workers brace for more layoffs as TransAlta continues shift from coal to natural gas

Highvale Mine, operated by TransAlta, is located south of Wabamun Lake, Alta.

File/Global News

About 122 TransAlta employees could be laid off by the end of February as the company continues its transition to natural gas, according to the union which represents workers at Highvale Mine.

United Steel Workers Local 1595 said it first heard about the job losses in December.

“It’s not a surprise,” Roy Milne said on Thursday. “We know there will be more.”

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The union said the first round of layoffs will take place Feb. 28 with a second round coming the first week of April.

READ MORE: Parkland County cuts operating budget by $4M, blames Alberta coal phase-out plan for fiscal pressures

The original number Milne heard was 122 but he said it might end up lower when voluntary layoffs, retirement and workers finding other jobs are factored in.

He said the number of hourly employees at Highvale Mine has dropped from 650 to about 410, as of Feb. 12.

READ MORE: Ottawa announces plan to phase out coal-fired electricity by 2030

“There will be more layoffs later in the year when they establish how little coal will be hauled compared to the past,” he added.

TransAlta would not confirm the number of jobs impacted, but issued a statement to Global News.

“As TransAlta continues the transition to natural gas-fuelled power plants, activities at the Highvale Mine continue to slow down and there will be associated job losses.

“Employees are aware that there will be layoffs at the mine in end of February.

“TransAlta continues to work with unions, government agencies, Indigenous communities and educational institutions to support affected workers in making the transition to re-employment, new career and educational opportunities,” the statement reads.

Highvale Mine is located south of Wabamun Lake, about 70 kilometres west of Edmonton. It’s one of TransAlta’s three surface coal mines and the largest surface strip mine in Canada. It’s been operating since 1970.

According to its website, TransAlta employs more than 2,300 people and runs over 60 facilities.

Of those operations, 57 per cent capacity is coal, while 17 per cent is gas.

READ MORE: Alberta makes deal with power producers to phase out coal by 2030

In November 2016, Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said the province struck a deal with three major coal-sourced power producers that would see the government pay them a total of $97 million a year over the next 14 years as they transition away from coal.

READ MORE: TransAlta to phase out coal power years ahead of Alberta’s deadline

In April 2017, TransAlta announced it was committed to phasing out its coal-fired power plants years ahead of Alberta government deadlines.

While some of TransAlta’s coal facilities are being shut this year, others are planned to be converted to natural gas facilities by the end of 2023, six years ahead of the NDP government’s deadline.

— With files from Phil Heidenreich, Global News

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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