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In the lore of costly clerical errors, last year’s $24 million loss by TransAlta Corp., a Canadian electricity generation and trading firm with annual revenues of $1.9 billion, ranks high on the list. It began when a TransAlta employee in Maryland made a simple cut-and-paste mistake on an Excel spreadsheet used to submit bids to a New York energy auction. By the time the snafu was caught, TransAlta had purchased–through non-reversible transactions–15 times the number of contracts it had meant to buy. The company’s operating earnings for the quarter were halved as a result, and it was forced to make cutbacks, including closing its Maryland office.

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