Computer rendering of the planned Aspen Power Station, west of Lanigan. SaskPower

 

There are major events and projects happening in Saskatchewan that, when you sum it all up, will have profound impacts not only on the Saskatchewan economy, but national unity.

We are rapidly coming to a point where an irresistible force – federal greenhouse gas emissions efforts, are meeting an immovable object – Saskatchewan’s need to keep the lights on, and its economy rolling.

Justin Trudeau’s planet-saving efforts are coming to a head against Scott Moe’s efforts to save Saskatchewan from Trudeau.

I watched a rather extraordinary legislative committee meeting on May 3. NDP Energy and SaskPower Critic Aleana Young asked three hours of hard-hitting, but reasonable questions – basically 95 per cent of what I’ve been working on over the last year and change. And in response, she got very solid, reasonable answers from Crown Investments Minister Don Morgan, SaskPower CEO Rupen Pandya, and vice presidents Tim Eckel and Troy King.

From left: SaskPower VP Tim Eckel, SaskPower VP Troy King, Minister of Crown Investments Corp. Don Morgan, SaskPower CEO Rupen Pandya. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

A substantial portion of that time was dedicated to the previously proposed, but now planned Aspen Power Station, to be built 17 kilometres west of Lanigan. That’s really close to an existing potash mine, but more importantly, it’s roughly 30 minutes from the BHP Jansen potash mine which will soon be going into production. This mine will be the crown jewel in the Saskatchewan economic crown.

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The new powerplant will be very similar to the combined cycle gas turbine plants built by SaskPower in recent years at Swift Current and Moose Jaw. It’s 370 megawatts in capacity, and Jansen is expected to require over 200 megawatts.

In other words, you want the biggest potash mine in the world, you’ve got to provide the juice to power it.

And wind and solar simply won’t cut it. Morgan said as much in the committee.

Governments like mantras. And Premier Scott Moe’s current mantra he inserts into every speech is how Saskatchewan has the food, fertilizer and fuel the world needs.

This power plant combines all of that. Natural gas (which we mostly get from Alberta) will provide the power to get the fertilizer so we can grow the food. So far, so good.

Irresistible force

But there’s a huge roadblock coming up ahead, in the form of the proposed federal Clean Electricity Standard. We’ve already got regulations saying coal fired-power generation must be gone by 2030. So SaskPower has been dutifully moving to replace its coal fleet by that time, building these large gas plants. If you include the two gas power stations at North Battleford built around 2013, by the time Aspen is complete, we’ll have largely done that. And in so doing, every megawatt produced by a natural gas power station produces about half the greenhouse gasses as a megawatt from unabated coal.

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But the proposed Clean Electricity Standard, trumpeted by federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, say that’s not good enough. They are now saying that all natural gas-fired power, except in exceptional circumstances, must also shut down by 2035.

That means our new Aspen Power Station would need to shut down after about seven years of operation, the definition of a “stranded asset.”

Immovable object

On any given day, coal and natural gas combine to produce up to 84 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power (and around 90 per cent in Alberta, at night, when the wind isn’t blowing). Saskatchewan has been putting all its eggs into the natural gas-fired basket (until we can build nuclear), only to have Guilbeault seeking to swipe that basket away.

So on May 2, at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Moe said it’s impossible for us to meet the Clean Electricity Standard.

“We will not attempt the impossible when it comes to power production,” he said.

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And this is where the national unity issue will raise its head. What if the federal government persists with this impossible standard, one this province simply cannot meet? What if the Supreme Court backs the feds, as it did with the carbon tax?

NDP SaskPower Critic Aleana Young. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

As Young said, “I hope there’s not going to be a federal government who like marches in and turns off the power plants or anything like that.” These are words I’ve been saying for a while now. What are the feds going to do? Send in the Canadian Army and turn off the power, for the sake of stopping climate change?

No matter the noble intentions (like saving the earth), when a law imposed on a people become impossible to follow, is it a just law?

What are the people’s options?

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These are the very real and looming issues Scott Moe is dealing with. He must keep the lights on, full stop. We don’t have magical options other than coal and natural gas. We don’t have much hydro capacity left. It’s going to take at least a decade to get the first nuclear power plant onboard. None of that takes into consideration we’re going to need enormous amounts of additional power to deal with all the electric vehicles the Biden and Trudeau administrations are forcing automakers to build.

Wind and solar are simply not an option. They may be supplementary. But they can not be relied upon. Just Tuesday morning, Alberta’s 3,618 megawatts of wind power dropped to 13. You can’t run a potash mine that needs 200 megawatts on 13. And Alberta already has a lot more wind and solar than Saskatchewan wants to build.

No, it’s natural gas or nothing. All of this has been a strong motivating factor behind the Saskatchewan First Act. It’s right in there, if you read it, as I have.

If the federal government persists with these Clean Electricity Standards, if no allowance is made for Saskatchewan, and if the courts back the feds, Saskatchewan will have to question its place in Canada.

That’s the whole ball game, folks.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online, and occasional contributor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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SaskPower quietly announces natural gas-fired Aspen Power Station at Lanigan

Moe draws the line in the dirt: “We will not attempt the impossible when it comes to power production”