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TransAlta Corporation (TAC) Q2 2019 Earnings Call Transcript

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TransAlta Corporation (NYSE: TAC)
Q2 2019 Earnings Call
Aug. 9, 2019, 9:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Good morning, my name is Christine, and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the TransAlta Corporation second quarter 2019 results conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question during this time, simply press * and the number 1 on your telephone keypad. If you would like to withdraw your question, press the # key. Thank you.

Chiara Valentini, Acting Manager, Investor Relations, you may begin your conference.

Chiara Valentini -- Acting Manager, Investor Relations

Thank you, Christine. Good morning, everyone, and welcome to TransAlta's second quarter 2019 conference call. With me today are Dawn Farrell, President and Chief Executive Officer, Todd Stack, Chief Financial Officer, John Kousinioris, Chief Operating Officer, and Brett Gellner, Chief Development Officer.

Today's call is webcast, and I invite those listening on the phone lines to view the supporting slides, which are available on our website. A replay of the call will be available later today, and the transcript will be posted to our website shortly thereafter.


As usual, all information provided during this conference call is subject to the forward-looking statement qualifications set out on Slide 2, details in our MD&A, and incorporated in full for the purposes of today's call. All amounts referenced during the call are in Canadian currency, unless otherwise stated. The non-IFRS terminology used in gross margin, comparable EBITDA, funds from operations, and free cash flow are also reconciled in the MD&A for your reference.

On today's call, Dawn and Todd will review the quarterly and year-to-date results and expectations for the remainder of the year. After these prepared remarks, we will open the call for questions. With that, let me turn the call over to Dawn.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Chiara, and welcome, everyone. Today will be a short call to give you some color on the quarter and year-to-date, and update you on the growth projects we are executing. We are preparing for our investor day in September, where we will discuss our strategy more specifically, so we won't add much on that front today.

Overall, I am pleased with the results of the business during the quarter, and our year-to-date. Our highly contracted facilities operated as expected to deliver our base cash flow. The year-to-date results in Coal and Hydro here in Alberta have been helped by stronger than expected pricing. The fundamental market here in Alberta is behaving competitively, which is a strong foundation for our assets here in this market.

Now, as I looked at the first six months of the year, this is what I saw: first, Canadian Coal is stronger than expected, due to more dispatching at the Sundance facilities in response to some stronger prices in the market, and the ability of the plants to coal-fire more aggressively now that the Pioneer pipeline is operational.

Prices in the first half of 2019 averaged $63.00 per megawatt hour, compared to $46.00 per megawatt hour in the first half of 2018. This additional pricing provided for some capacity pricing for the merchant Sundance facilities, and justified keeping them online. We do expect some of this to continue as we move through to the end of 2019.

The stronger pricing in the ancillary services market gave us about the same amount of EBITDA from our Hydro facilities as in the first half of 2018. Todd will show you that we didn't make as much on ancillary services in Q2 of 2019 as we did in the second quarter of last year. Last year, there was an exceptional demand for these services in the second quarter; however, when you assess the strength of that business in this market over the past six months, under what I believe is normal and competitive pricing, the Hydro portion of our business continues to perform well, and as expected.

Energy marketing is having a strong year, primarily due to the gain they experienced in the Pacific Northwest in Quarter 1; otherwise, everything is performing the way we normally expect them to perform, and it's great to see what they're doing this year.

Centralia has returned to normal expectation in Quarter 2, but still lags in cash for 2019, due to the issue they experienced in Quarter 1, and our corporate costs were up slightly higher in Quarter 2 due to some additional expenses. We're finding ways to offset those costs, and expect them to be mostly normalized by the end of 2019.

Overall, 2019 was expected to be below 2018 for EBITDA and cash flow, as the Mississauga and Poplar Creek contracts rolled off and stepped down. We also expected to have significantly less free cash flow in the second quarter, as we had planned outages in Coal this year that we did not have last year; however, the first six months are showing additional strength, and we are not down by as much as we expected, so this is great news. As a result, we now expect to be at the upper end of our free cash flow guidance for 2019.

Now, during the second quarter, we announced the completion of the Pioneer pipeline. It was completed four months ahead of schedule, and has begun flowing natural gas to generating units at Sundance and Keep Hill. The pipeline is currently flowing about 50 MMCF per day during this start-up phase. Burn throughput of approximately 130 MMCF per day of natural gas can commence in November. The completion of that pipeline is a cornerstone toward our strategy of transitioning to gas, and we've achieved a major milestone in that plan.

We are accelerating our conversion and repowering plans for our Sundance and Keep Hill to gas-fired generation in the 2020-2023 timeframe, as you all know. On July 4, 2019, we issued final notice to proceed on our Sundance Unit 6, and are targeting to complete the conversion of that unit to gas in the second half of 2020.

During the second quarter of 2019, we closed the first tranche of the strategic investment by Brookfield. The proceeds of $350 million provide TransAlta the financial flexibility to advance our coal-to-gas conversion strategy, and creates a strategic partnership with one of the world's leaders in renewable energy. We also announced last week the swap of our half of G3 for capital power [] K3. The economic change from this swap is insignificant in the short term; however, we now have complete flexibility in how we operate the mine and transition our fleet to gas.

Turning to Slide 5, we will provide a quick update on our new assets in the construction pipeline. The top two projects on this slide, Big Level and Antrim, are great projects for TransAlta Renewables, and both projects are currently funded directly by TransAlta Renewables. Construction is advancing, and we have revised our cost estimate at TransAlta Renewables by US $10 million, primarily due to the impact of extreme wet weather conditions. We continue to target both wind projects to reach commercial operation later this year, in 2019.

Skookumchuck and Windrise are currently being funded by TransAlta. Both projects are underpinned by 20-year PPAs with strong counterparties, and therefore are excellent candidates for acquisition by TransAlta Renewables. Both Windrise and Skookumchuck projects are progressing. Windrise will reach COD by mid-2021; Skookumchuck construction has commenced, and COD is targeted by late Q4 2019, or early Q1 of next year, and we will acquire our 49% equity industry in the project at COD.

Turning to Slide 6, on a consolidated basis, you can see how these growth projects will lift our future EBITDA. We expect to see benefits at Big Level, Antrim, and Project Pioneer later this year. Next year, we'll start to see the benefit from Skookumchuck, and by 2022, we expect to have approximately $60 million of EBITDA added to our run rate. This year, we are investing over $400 million in growing the business through new development projects. Over the next three years, we will commission these five projects, which have a total capital investment of approximately $850 million before proceeds of project financing and tax equity.

Finally, today, we announced the promotion of John Kousinioris to our Chief Operating Officer. Congratulations to John, who's with us today as he takes on a role that I myself held from 2009 to the end of 2011. This change allows me to lift out of the day-to-day operation, and to work more aggressively on our growth strategy and the execution of additional policy work to ensure that our transition to gas and renewables by 2025 is successful. There's a lot to do to consolidate the business as it moves to a simpler operation, and John has a strong team working for him that can focus on simplifying the business. So with that, I'll turn the call over to Todd.

Todd Stack -- Chief Financial Officer

Thank you, Dawn, and welcome to everyone on the call. Before I jump into the operational results, I'd like to start by reviewing the Alberta price trends on Slide 7. The Alberta market continued to demonstrate strong fundamentals in the second quarter; prices remained relatively consistent with prior periods, with an average price of $57.00 per megawatt hour this year, compared to $56.00 per megawatt hour in 2018. During the period, power prices generally averaged between $30.00 and $40.00 on most days, with prices increasing during short periods of supply/demand tightness. Our merchant Coal and Hydro assets performed well under these market conditions. We are currently seeing the balance of Q3 at $52.00 per megawatt hour, and Q4 is currently estimated to be $60.0 per megawatt hour.

As we look at 2020, the forward curve increased from $50.00 per megawatt hour in early May to $58.00 per megawatt hour, based on improving market fundamentals.

On Slide 8, I will highlight the improving performance of our Canadian Coal segment. In Q2, EBITDA increased 40% from $47 million in 2018 to $66 million in 2019. On a per-megawatt-hour basis, EBITDA margins increased by $8.00 from $16.00 per megawatt hour to $24.00 per megawatt hour. This represents a 30% improvement to EBITDA margins, driven by higher realized price and lower operating costs. Quarter over quarter, realized revenue per megawatt hour increased by 6%, or $4.00 per megawatt hour, and operating costs also improved by 6%, or $3.00 per megawatt hour.

The ongoing transition of our mining operations and the increase in the amount of coal firing is resulting in lower fuel and carbon costs, and lower OM&A. On a year-to-date basis, the trend is similar, with EBITDA in Canadian Coal increasing from $111 million in 2018 to $129 million in 2019, a 16% increase. EBITDA margins also improved from $16.00 per megawatt hour to $20.00 per megawatt hour, a 27% improvement in margins.

As Dawn noted at the beginning of our discussion, our results in the quarter and year-to-date were down relative to last year, driven by a number of factors, including the contract expiry at Mississauga, and step-down in contract payments at Poplar Creek. On Slide 9, we've bridged our year-to-date EBITDA and segment cash flows for 2019 versus 2018, and we've shown the impact of the Mississauga and Poplar Creek contract changes to those results. Excluding the impact of these known contract changes, we delivered EBITDA and segment cash flows in line with last year, and in line with our expectations for the three and six months ended June 30th.

Our energy marketing team had another solid quarter, generating $20 million of cash flow, compared to $9 million in Q2 of 2018. As shown in the bridge, on a year-to-date basis, cash flow from energy marketing is delivering $53 million better than in 2018. Over the last six months, the team has been able to take advantage of market opportunities, primarily in the US western markets.

The Canadian gas segment -- excluding the impact of contract changes -- EBITDA improved by $2 million in the quarter and $8 million year-to-date when compared to 2018. The improvement was primarily due to favorable market conditions at the Sarnia facility.

Our Hydro business delivered good results, generating EBITDA of $37 million in the quarter, and $64 million year-to-date. In Q2 2018, ancillary service revenues were very strong due to high demand driven by high imports into the province, and as a result, Q2 2019 EBITDA was comparatively lower by $12 million. On a year-to-date basis, EBITDA results for 2019 were in line with 2018.

As described in the last slide, Canadian Coal delivered slightly higher EBITDA in the second quarter and year-to-date versus 2018; however, this improvement was offset by lower results at US Coal due to the unplanned outage in Q1. Full segment cash flows were also negatively impacted by the additional planned maintenance at Sundance Unit 4, and at Keephills Unit 1. There were no planned outages in 2018 in our Canadian Coal business.

On Slide 10, we're showing the buildup of our Hydro PPA EBITDA to help illustrate the upside of the Hydro assets once the PPA expires at the end of 2020. For the six months ended June 30, 2019, our Hydro assets generated $64 million in EBITDA; however, they would have generated $142 million if the current PPA obligation payments did not exist.

Just to wrap up on the quarter, our overall performance was in line with expectation, and we continue to track toward the upper end of our free cash flow guidance of $330 million. Liquidity was very strong at Q2, with $1.3 billion available on credit facilities, and we also had $200 million of cash on hand. During the quarter, we returned $21 million of capital to shareholders through our share buyback program, and we expect to purchase up to $250 million over the next three years. At our investor day in September, I'll provide more detail on capital allocation. With that, I will now pass the call back to Chiara, who will open up the call for questions on the quarter and the first half of the year.

Chiara Valentini -- Acting Manager, Investor Relations

Thank you, Todd. Christine, would you please open the call for questions from the analysts and media?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you. At this time, I would like to remind everyone: in order to ask a question, please press * and the number 1 on your telephone keypad. We'll pause for just a moment to compile the Q&A roster.

Your first question comes from the line of Mark Jarvi from CIBC Capital Markets. Your line is open.

Mark Jarvi -- CIBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Hi, good morning everyone. Yeah, first question was just maybe on the decision for notice to proceed on Sundance Unit 6, and -- obviously, we've all seen the decision around the capacity market -- just wondering what gave you guys the confidence to go ahead with that, versus some other hybrids and other conversion options you guys have been thinking about.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, let me start, and then Brett -- who's been doing all the analysis -- can chip in. I think kind of overall, if you look at just the carbon pricing in the markets, Mark, it funds the conversion -- a simple conversion -- and you can get a simple conversion done quickly. It will take us until -- when we're looking at our hybrid options, hybrids can't actually be put into the market until '23-'24 time frame because of the regulatory work you've got to do to get the permits -- and so effectively, the shareholders will be better off the quicker we get off coal, and it effectively gets funded by carbon tax reductions, and then that allows us the flexibility of deciding just how much -- how many hybrids, and we've got to manage it within a really good balance sheet, as well, so that's kind of the math that we're doing as we get ready for investor day.

I don't know -- Brett, do you want to add anything to that?

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

No, no, I think that's exactly -- get out more in September.

Mark Jarvi -- CIBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Yep, OK. Looking forward to September. And then maybe -- any update in view from the transition from CCAR to the tier, in terms of how the facilities that opted in -- Hydro, and I'm thinking some of the wind -- that are getting carbon credits, how you think those will be treated, and any additional clarity on that yet?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, there's no additional clarity on that. Of course, we're continuing to advocate for the rollover to be simple and as per the CCAR, but until they make a decision, we won't know. We have no particular insight on that.

Mark Jarvi -- CIBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay, and then when you think about being able to hit the upper end of range for free cash flow for the year, just what do you guys -- assuming on power prices -- is it largely in line with where the forward curve is? Are you taking in the conservatism, or just -- roughly -- where do you see power pricing need to be for you to hit that upper end of the range?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

No, I think it's based on where we see the forward curve today, and we don't think that the market -- we think the market will fundamentally trade around there, so all of our analysis shows that if you look at supply and demand, and how the market's reacting, that those are pretty reasonable prices in the current environment, with the current carbon price.

Mark Jarvi -- CIBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Okay, great, thanks -- I'll jump back in the queue.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yep, thanks. Thanks, Mark.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Andrew Kuske from Credit Suisse; your line is open.

Andrew Kuske -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Thank you, good morning. Maybe you could just give a bit of the mechanics on the cash flow in the Hydro JV with Brookfield. Are you intending to sweep all the cash out to the partners, and then you redeploy elsewhere?

Todd Stack -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, it's Todd here. I think that's largely correct, but we're still many years away from Brookfield's conversion rates -- executing -- so those details really haven't been ironed out at this point, but I think -- largely -- that's a good assumption to go with.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, remember, they can't actually execute on the Hydro until 2025, so for now we just pay the interest on the money that they've injected into the business.

Andrew Kuske -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

And then, just maybe similar question: how do you think about the cash flow you received from R&W at this stage? Obviously, you were active in buying back stock in the quarter; how do you think about the dividends you receive to effectively accrete TransAlta shareholders by buying back more of your own stock at the current value?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think that's a good point, but I think the way we think about it is a little different, so we have -- sort of -- the money ostensibly set aside out of -- for the share buyback -- that $250 million that we can buy back over three years here, and at the same time -- when we look at the cash flow from the dividend for TransAlta, we pay a dividend -- so we get about $150 million from R&W. We pay a dividend of about $40 million, so you can basically say, "Okay, the TransAlta shareholder gets $40 of that $150," and so then the remaining $110 is some of the cash that we're using along with other free cash flow that we're generating out of the Alberta business to reinvest in Alberta business, and keep our balance sheet strong.

Andrew Kuske -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay, thank you, and then -- maybe just while you mentioned the reinvestment in the Alberta business, there's a comment in the MD&A on the repowering of the coal units at a 40% less cost, and a new combined cycle with a similar heat rate. Could you maybe provide a bit of color on just other performance attributes, like the ability to ramp and cycle around those units in the future, versus a combined cycle?

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

Yeah, it's Brett, Andrew. We don't see much difference. We went and saw a site that's been running for ten years, and has been running very successfully, and has very good ramping capability, so -- again, given the lower heat rate, we'd also expect them to run more frequently as base load, so the actual ramping will be kind of around the margin, versus traditional peaker type unit, as you look back, so -- yeah, no, we don't see any significant performance differences, and clearly, we're utilizing existing capital that's already in the ground, which enhances the economics quite significantly.

Andrew Kuske -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

Okay, that's great. Thank you.

Operator

Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press * and the number 1 on your telephone keypad. Your next question comes from the line of John Mould from TD Securities. Your line is open.

John Mould -- TD Securities -- Analyst

Good morning, everybody. Maybe just starting with the hybrid -- and I recognize totally you don't wanna steal your investor day thunder -- but there's a comment in the MD&A that you expect to make the decision around those investments in 2020, and I think that was previously late 2019 in the Q1 MD&A -- so I'm just wondering what's changed since May that's informed that update.

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

Yeah, nothing -- when we're proceeding with evaluating those, as we've discussed in the past -- and again, we'll update you some more here in September on our plans -- but we're advancing a lot of the studies, the analysis, and it just -- based on that, our final investment decision would be later in the 2020 period, and so -- just the amount of work we have to do there. But no real change on timing of when we would think about those being built, if we proceed with them. And like I said, I think we'll be able to provide you with more information in September, once we get there.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, so let me try to give you just a sense of the decision making, which is quite different if you're looking at just a simple conversion versus a hybrid. So as you know, a simple conversion is kind of an extra $30-50 million inside an outage that instead of being four weeks becomes eight weeks, and fundamentally, the cash is being -- it's a productivity investment, because the cash is being funded by reduced carbon taxes that immediately occur when you run the units after the fact, right? You go from paying -- well, like at $20.00, you go from paying about $12.00 to $1.00 in carbon tax, so it doesn't take very long for that investment to pay off.

So those are relatively simple investments, and we've already got everything lined up for that. We've got all the regulatory decisions are made, both federally and provincially for that, and we've got all the permits, so everything's just now lining up the equipment, and lining up the outages, and -- on investor day, we're going to reveal which plants are going to get their simple conversion.

When it comes to the hybrids, that's really a similar development path as we undertook when we were thinking about Sun 7. You have -- first of all, they're more capital, significantly more capital. They're much less than a combined cycle plant, but they're more capital. There's more permitting considerations; there's more stakeholder work that has to be done in the region around things like noise, and all the regular stuff that you do, and then there's still some regulations that we need to make sure are the way we want them, relative to the greenhouse gas -- future greenhouse gases and all that sort of stuff.

So effectively, they're on the same kind of development path as you'd expect that size of investment to be, and they take two-and-a-half years to build, so you gotta line up your EPC contractors and make sure you got your construction all ready to go, so it's just a longer decision timeframe, so I think [inaudible] they make a ton of sense in the Alberta market as it is today, especially since it's an energy-only market. It makes a ton of sense for the TransAlta portfolio to have some mix of both, but that decision making will be akin to what you saw on Sun 7, and we'll walk you through on investor day sort of what those key milestones are, but really it's a lot about just making sure we've got all the development done correctly. Does that help, John?

John Mould -- TD Securities -- Analyst

Yes, I really appreciate that detail. Then maybe just moving to the Ontario market, I'd be curious to your thoughts on the market changes happening in Ontario right now, and how this is informing your recontracting outlook for your existing thermal assets in the province.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I mean, I think the Ontario market is a very complicated market structure, and personally, I was surprised that they would be able to actually get to a capacity market that worked, because they still have a great big government-owned generator in that market, and there's a lot of aspects of that market that doesn't make it a market. So I think that market structure is much more served by the way that they do the contracting, so I think net-net, it's really positive for us, because we know Sarnia can run till 2040. Sarnia's got three customers that rely on it for steam, and rely on it for competitiveness, and all the rest of it, so I think it's actually net-net positive for us.

John Mould -- TD Securities -- Analyst

Okay, great, and then, maybe just one last housekeeping question, quickly. Regarding the FNG disputes, can you maybe just remind us where those are at, at this point?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, currently -- like all legal disputes, we're in the middle of what it looks like in Australia. So in Australia, there's a requirement to do mediation before you actually can get into the courts. If all goes well, that mediation takes place toward the end of this year. Usually these things -- I never rely too much on the timing, because there's always a lot of back-and-forth, and dates move, so I'm hoping we get the mediation stage of this done through the end of this year, but I'm certainly not going to guarantee it to you. So wait and see; we'll have an update on that for you, probably in our October call -- in November, when we do our -- I think our call is in October, so when we've finished our third quarter, we'll know if that mediation is under way.

John Mould -- TD Securities -- Analyst

Okay, great. Those are my questions; thank you very much.

Todd Stack -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, John, the only other thing I would say is the trial is currently scheduled for kind of the back half of the second quarter of 2020 -- yeah, but the trial date has actually been set [simultaneous speech].

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, OK, so there's a trial date in 2020.

John Mould -- TD Securities -- Analyst

Okay, great. Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Maurice Choy from RBC. Your line is open.

Maurice Choy -- RBC Capital Markets -- Director, Canadian Energy Infrastructure, Equity Research

Thank you, and good morning. My first question is on, I guess the conversions and the potential hybrids. How does the government's reviews of price cap and, or even power mitigation matters affect your decision on technology, or timing?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

So I think what we'll try to do is we'll have a sense -- and we do actually have a sense, because we know enough about energy markets generally to know how that will impact the way that units are dispatched into the market, and how it impacts kind of pricing overall, but we don't actually -- at this point, we don't see that review having a big impact on price, other than it has to effectively create some sort of capacity price in the energy market for new generation to be brought into the marketplace.

Because our hybrids are actually replacements of existing capacity, it's not that big a deal for us, but we'll give you some color on that as we're bringing forward our investment decisions. Currently, I can say pretty clearly, though: it doesn't have a huge impact on how we make our decisions for making those investments, because they're so economic.

Maurice Choy -- RBC Capital Markets -- Director, Canadian Energy Infrastructure, Equity Research

I guess even on timing, that also doesn't have impact?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, because remember, they need to have all this in place -- PPAs roll off at the end of 2020. By January 1, 2021, everybody's going to know the market rules because the PPAs are gone, and right now, the PPAs are where the reliability and capacity guarantees are in the marketplace. So you gotta replace that by having the energy-only market signals give you a lot of confidence about reliability. We don't intend to issue a final notice to proceed on those plants until somewhere in 2020 anyway; by that time we'll know what those rules are. I suspect it won't change our timing at all, but -- you never know -- but my view is that it doesn't have a bit impact on our timing, because our timing is to have those units come online in early 2024.

Maurice Choy -- RBC Capital Markets -- Director, Canadian Energy Infrastructure, Equity Research

Right, and then my second question, I guess is on hedging. I guess something similar to the first question: does the government's review, or even the conversions that you're planning to do right now -- would you wait for Sundance 6's conversion to finish, run smoothly before you get more confidence on other conversions? How does that entire process affect your hedging strategy, moving forward?

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

Yeah, I would say it doesn't affect our hedging strategy at all. We have a pretty significant portfolio, where we're always looking to place hedges in the market to get rid of that price uncertainty.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, this conversion is not risky, and we're not looking at it as, "Okay, we've now got a unit that's gonna take some time to ramp up and run smoothly," I mean, this unit will run way more smoothly on gas, so that doesn't impact our hedging at all. I think -- as we think about hedging -- we've always thought about hedging relative to -- the decision on hedging is relative to stability of cash flow, and so we've really gotta turn our mind to that as we enter into more of a emergent market with less PPAs, and there's some other market fundamentals that have to occur in the Alberta market -- like, to the extent that the RRO disappears, to the extent that there's more customers looking for more hedges, as they don't have that option -- I think there's a number of changes that will come to make the market even more competitive, and then that is the kind of information that feeds how we think about hedging.

Maurice Choy -- RBC Capital Markets -- Director, Canadian Energy Infrastructure, Equity Research

And since you do not believe the reviews would have much impact on price, government's review also shouldn't alter your hedging strategy?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

No. What alters your hedging strategy is your view of the fundamentals, and that is the basic word that you've gotta do is, you've gotta think about where the market fundamentals are, and that tells you how much you hedge, and how much you leave open.

Maurice Choy -- RBC Capital Markets -- Director, Canadian Energy Infrastructure, Equity Research

Great, thank you very much.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Maurice.

Operator

Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press * and the number 1 on your telephone keypad. Your next question comes from the line of Chris Varcoe from Calgary Herald. Your line is open.

Chris Varcoe -- Calgary Herald -- Senior Editor, Politics

Hi, Dawn; I just wondered if we could go back to the Alberta government's decision to stick with the energy-only market? I guess I'm wondering what impact will it have upon the company, and -- more specifically -- your thoughts on investing in future generation in the province.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, so Chris, really, the difference between a capacity market and an energy-only market is you either invest in assets that provide capacity, so that the reliability comes because you've got machines waiting to run in case they're needed, or you -- on an energy-only market, you tend to favor investments in machines that run at really high capacity factors, and create energy with what are called "low heat rates," and so in our strategy, our simple conversions are capacity products, and our hybrids are energy products.

So really, what it's done is it's had us reevaluating just our mix. We still think that -- for our company -- a competitive portfolio, which has hydro, wind, and some of these capacity conversions, and then some hybrids is the right mix for our company, and it allows us to ensure that we can provide low prices for customers, because -- fundamentally, that's what we're here to do. We're here to make electricity boring, simple, and cheap for everybody. So net-net, what it's doing is it's causing us to think about what our investment strategy looks like for hybrids, and that's what -- when we have our investor day on September 16th in Toronto, that's what we'll be announcing.

Chris Varcoe -- Calgary Herald -- Senior Editor, Politics

Okay. Does it make you any more likely -- or less likely -- to make future investments in generation in the province?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

No, it's about the same. I mean, I think we're a big player here in Alberta; we pride ourselves in providing low-cost electricity to the marketplace here. It's just really more how we think about the mix for the Alberta market.

Chris Varcoe -- Calgary Herald -- Senior Editor, Politics

And I just wanted to ask you, what impact -- if any at all -- will it have upon the transition into gas? You alluded to it I guess a little bit there, but I'm just wondering if you might be able to provide a little more color on what impact it might have on the timing, or anything else that you do as you transition the core fleet to gas?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, so just simply: currently, there's a carbon tax of $20.00 in the market. We expect that to rise, as you have to be in compliance with sort of all the carbon legislation that's in the country. Our view is -- fundamentally -- that carbon will be priced over the next 20 years, no matter what, no matter what that political framework is, so we cannot get off coal fast enough in this company. And gas right now in Alberta is extremely inexpensive; there's lots of it. It's cheaper than anybody ever imagined it would be, and it's half -- it doesn't command a very high carbon price, so our coal-to-gas strategy is completely predicated on our belief that it's not smart to be in carbon-intensive fuels for the future -- for our shareholders.

Chris Varcoe -- Calgary Herald -- Senior Editor, Politics

Just lastly: there's obviously, we're sticking with the energy-only market, but there's -- as you pointed out -- there's going to be review here. Are there changes you think fundamentally have to happen to the energy-only market to make it more attractive to invest in, and -- I guess specifically -- what changes would you be asking the government to look at?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I mean for sure the No. 1 change that the government has to think about is in pricing, because if you don't have enough of a price signal in an energy-only market to attract new capital, you won't get new capital, and you'll run up against the wall. Like, you'll have the investments from the incumbents like ourselves, but you won't get new entry into the marketplace. So think about it this way, Chris: it costs you over $1 billion to build a brand new gas plant, let's say -- and you gotta say to yourself, "I'll get paid over -- let's say 20 years, I gotta get paid back that capital, and a return on that capital, and I have to rely on a spot market to get me that return."

So I better have a lot of confidence that that market functions well -- it functions like a market, and I can see that pricing in the marketplace. So they've got to turn their attention to that, I'd say, first and foremost.

Secondarily, the work that I'm doing on the policy side is, I think Alberta has to get behind some sort of a proactive legislation about the use of gas for making electricity for 20-25 years, because I don't think that people can invest in gas generators with the notion that -- in the future -- somebody might come along and say, "We don't like gas anymore, so we're gonna shut your gas plants down," so we have to have our ability to make those investments over a long period of time, protected, and I think that's a piece of work that I'd like to see happen here in Alberta, and I'll be advocating for.

Chris Varcoe -- Calgary Herald -- Senior Editor, Politics

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Mitchell Moss from Lord Abbett; your line is open.

Mitchell Moss -- Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Hi, thanks for having the call and all the questions. Just wondering on the Pioneer pipeline EBITDA that you guys show, where you discuss that there's some variability based on volume: I guess first, is that 2021-22 level based on just the -- I guess steam turbine boiler conversion, and not the combined cycle conversion -- or is there also potential of combined -- like, extra throughput because of increased gas burn?

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

Yeah, so -- it's Brett here. Yeah, so the picture you saw there, as Dawn mentioned, the hybrid or combined cycle takes longer to permit, so this does not pick up that. But remember -- as Dawn also mentioned -- we're really converting units in exchange for other units that are running, so they're very efficient units, and so that picture probably doesn't change dramatically, once we go to the hybrids, and it's driven by throughput.

So the way pipelines work -- not just Pioneer, but generally here in Alberta -- is tolls are paid to get on the pipe, and tolls are paid to get off the pipe, and so the more volume you move through that pipe, clearly the more revenue and EBITDA it generates. Because the capital doesn't change, now that you've got the pipe, you might have to put some modest compression in to get it above a certain volume over time, but that's relatively modest, so any increase in throughput really goes directly to the bottom line because the operating costs and the capital are kind of fixed already.

Mitchell Moss -- Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Okay, but this is essentially just showing the basic conversion, not the combined cycle.

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

And in our coal firing, so -- as Dawn mentioned -- we can coal-fire currently, without converting, up to 30% in each of those units today, and we've been maximizing that -- and so this is a mix of conversion and coal firing and conversions as we convert some of the units over.

Mitchell Moss -- Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Okay.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, just think about it this way: first of all, the current Pioneer pipeline, when it gets to its 130 in November, can be used right away to coal-fire, and we can maximize the use of the pipeline for that. Then, in 2020, when Sun 6 is converted, we'll need to use the gas for Sun 6 plus coal firing. As we get all the way through our strategy, and we get to our hybrids -- whatever our decision is on how many of those we do -- we actually have to add some more pipeline capacity, and Brett and his team are working on that, so we'll show you how that works in terms of our gas supply and demand, and our pipeline as we -- at our investor day, which we know everybody is going to come to now, because we've advertised so many things that we're going to do there, that everybody will have to show up!

Mitchell Moss -- Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC -- Analyst

And could you -- outside of a capacity option, which seems to be off the table for now -- what are some other market characteristics that you would need to decide to go ahead with for combined cycle conversion?

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Well, the No. 1 market characteristic is exactly what I just talked about: you have to know that the market is very competitive, and that there's not interventions that can happen in the market. So Alberta's had a pretty solid energy-only market over the last 20 years, so you've got to sort of say to yourself as we go forward, "The rules that are put in place are put in place, they're protected. They can't be intervened in, and I can reliably use the fundamentals of supply and demand, predict what prices will be, so I can determine whether or not my investment will be recovered," and so it's just whether or not that market is set up as a competitive market -- which we have every reason to believe it will be, because it has in the past.

But as the PPAs transition out, new rules have to transition in to make sure that the pricing will be robust, and if that pricing is robust, that's what protects your investment.

Mitchell Moss -- Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC -- Analyst

Thank you very much.

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Thank you -- thanks, Mitchell.

Operator

There are no further questions at this time. Miss Chiara Valentini, I turn the call back over to you.

Chiara Valentini -- Acting Manager, Investor Relations

Thank you, everyone; that concludes our call for today. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to the Investor Relations team. Thank you.

Operator

This concludes today's conference call; you may now disconnect.

Duration: 44 minutes

Call participants:

Chiara Valentini -- Acting Manager, Investor Relations

Dawn Farrell -- President, Chief Executive Officer

Todd Stack -- Chief Financial Officer

John Kousinioris -- Chief Operating Officer

Brett Gellner -- Chief Development Officer

Mark Jarvi -- CIBC Capital Markets -- Analyst

Andrew Kuske -- Credit Suisse -- Analyst

John Mould -- TD Securities -- Analyst

Maurice Choy -- RBC Capital Markets -- Director, Canadian Energy Infrastructure, Equity Research

Chris Varcoe -- Calgary Herald -- Senior Editor, Politics

Mitchell Moss -- Lord, Abbett & Co. LLC -- Analyst

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