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Allegations TransAlta manipulated electricity market disappoint Redford

CALGARY - Alberta Premier Alison Redford said Thursday she was "disappointed" over allegations that TransAlta Corp. manipulated the province's electricity market by shutting down power plants to drive up prices.

The province's electricity market watchdog alleges TransAlta (TSX:TA) engaged in the anti-competitive conduct in 2010 and 2011 during peak electricity demands.

"TransAlta Corporation, its direct and indirect subsidiaries and certain current and former employees undermined the integrity of the Alberta wholesale electric energy market by engaging in anti-competitive conduct in 2010 and 2011," writes Market Surveillance Administrator Harry Chandler.

Chandler said the administrator has authority under the Alberta Utilities Commission Act to investigate conduct that does not support the fair, efficient and openly competitive operation of the electricity market.

"The investigation into TransAlta’s activities commenced in March 2011 and as a result of the evidence obtained the MSA has decided to formally apply to the Commission for adjudication of the matter," he writes.

TransAlta denies the allegations.

Redford told reporters she has been informed about what's going on, but she won't comment until there is a decision from the utilities commission.

"We have agencies in place to ensure that when these sorts of circumstances happen there is the ability to investigate, to levy fines, to impose penalties and to ensure that it doesn't happen on a regular basis. I'm very disappointed ... to know that this is out there," she said.

"It's unfortunate that within that system people conduct themselves in a way that perhaps they shouldn't, but we do have independent agencies that are in place to deal with those sorts of circumstances and that's what we're seeing now."

The power company has filed its own complaints with the commission about the administrator.

"It is a serious allegation," said TransAlta spokeswoman Stacey Hatcher. "We feel their allegations are unfounded and TransAlta is committed to a compliance culture here. The reference to some outages being taken in order to drive up prices is categorically false.

"TransAlta takes outages when it comes to maintenance, when it comes to operations, when it comes to safety."

Hatcher said TransAlta and the administrator had been trying to resolve the matter for the past three years with no success and the administrator had been investigating TransAlta in an "aggressive and protracted manner".

"It became very clear the only place this would find resolution would be with the AUC," Hatcher said.

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