Premier Scott Moe, in the last debate of the session, arguing to keep the lights on. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

The 2022-23 Saskatchewan legislative session could rightly be called the “Keep the lights on” session.

That’s because the very first bill brought up was the Saskatchewan First Act, whose stated purpose was to re-assert provincial control over power generation (and its fuel source) when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as natural resources and fertilizer usage by farmers.

This was inspired by nine federal initiatives mean to limit anthropogenic (manmade) climate change. But the bogeyman was the 10th initiative – a proposed “Clean Electricity Standard,” also referred to as “Clean Electricity Regulations.” Currently in discussion form, if brought in some time this year, it would mean power generating companies could not use fossil fuels for power generation past 2035, except in exceptional circumstances. This is part of the whole push to “Net Zero by 2035,” just 12 years from now.

The problem is there have been days last winter where Saskatchewan needed fossil fuel power, from natural gas and coal, to provide up to 84 per cent of out power generation. We can’t simply replace that in 12 years. And part of the reason the number was so high is because wind generation, which has a theoretical maximum of 617 megawatts, had fallen to next to nothing.

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The very last debate of the session, was about electrical power generation, and Saskatchewan’s Legislative Assembly unanimously adopting a government resolution stating:

“That this Assembly recognizes that the federal government’s electrical generation target of net zero emissions by 2035 is unrealistic and unaffordable in Saskatchewan; and further, That this Assembly supports the provincial government’s made-in-Saskatchewan plan for affordable, reliable power generation to 2035 and beyond.”

That resolution was part of a week-long push by the Saskatchewan Party government to focus on power production, again, keeping the lights on. On May 16, Premier Scott Moe released Saskatchewan’s plan to reach net zero by 2050 when it comes to power production.

NDP Leader and Leader of the Opposition Carla Beck, speaking about power production on May 17. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

NDP Leader Carla Beck’s amendment to calling on the government “to make significant investments in renewable power to ensure reliable, affordable, sustainable power and seize the economic opportunity that comes with the green jobs.” Despite the amendment being defeated, the NDP still supported the overall resolution.

This is a rare case of both major parties coming together.

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So what are Saskatchewan’s options if coal and natural gas are verboten in 12 years?

There’s often a hue and cry for more renewables. Some think we can just call up Manitoba Hydro and order enormous amounts of additional hydro power.

SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya said on May 16 that Manitoba Hydro had very little, if any, additional power to sell us, and has already informed us that at the expiration of our current power purchase agreements, they will not likely renew them. Manitoba will need that power for itself.

The most recent dam in Manitoba, Keeyask, which produces around 695 megawatts, cost $8.7 billion, according to Manitoba Hydro officials in a recent SaskPower presentation. That’s roughly the cost of two nuclear reactors of 300 megawatts each, that won’t flood enormous tracts of land. But Saskatchewan has little prospects of large-scale hydro development like that.

Some would say the Saskatchewan Party government has done nothing on the renewables front, or has not done enough (whatever that means). On that, they would be dead wrong. In the last year, Saskatchewan’s grid-scale wind generation more than doubled, adding 375 megawatts to reach 617 in total. Solar generation tripled to 30 megawatts. SaskPower intends on adding 600 megawatts of wind and 400 megawatts of solar by 2027, and a further 2,000 megawatts of wind and solar by 2035.

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To put that in perspective, on a typical day in January, Saskatchewan often saw around 3,200 megawatts of power consumption. The record was 3,910 on Dec. 30, 2021. So theoretically, Saskatchewan is building enough wind and solar, (plus existing hydro) to meet all of current our power demands, in January.

However, the reality is there are times when ALL of that fails. Solar production goes to zero every single night as long as the earth keeps turning. Pandya said, “Renewable generation such as wind and solar doesn’t, doesn’t produce electricity when the wind doesn’t blow or its sun doesn’t shine. And given the intermittency of renewables, about 80 per cent of the energy consumed in Saskatchewan must come from reliable baseload sources that can provide power 24/7.”

“SaskPower currently has 617 megawatts of wind generation and on the hottest or coldest days of the year, when demand for electricity is that it is at its highest, there’s often very little wind for days at a time, with minimal electricity provided for wind generation. We had a period in December, where there was no wind between Alberta and Saskatchewan, so across both prairie provinces, for seven days in a row.”

“So as a result, natural gas generation is necessary to ensure reliability as we add renewables. Additionally, SaskPower continues to evaluate nuclear small modular reactors as a potential non emitting baseload source of electricity that could be available as early as 2034.”

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SaskPower is now aiming for a 7,000 megawatt grid. The “Saskatchewan Plan” talks of running our current coal and natural gas plants to their end of life, as well as the new gas plants we’re building. But it doesn’t expressly say what happens then. So I asked Moe about this when he was in Estevan on May 19, wrapping up the week focused on power production. He said, “We have really three options today, gas, gas, coal, and nuclear. And as we look out, decades ahead, I think you’re going to see quite likely nuclear is going to be a larger part of that conversation.”

The reality is, if the feds won’t allow Saskatchewan (and Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, for that matter), to burn natural gas or coal 12 years from now, we would need to build massive numbers of nuclear reactors in that time. But SaskPower thinks only its first 300 megawatt small modular reactor would be ready by 2035. If our planned 7000 megawatt grid will be half renewables by 2050, we will need at least 12 reactors, not the four planned. Total hydro output typically is around 300 megawatts, or equal to one reactor. So we better hope the sun doesn’t go down, and the wind doesn’t stop blowing, because those 12 reactors plus hydro still would not have covered our most recent record demand, never mind when we start driving all those electric cars.

If the energy transition from fossil fuels is going to take place, we’re going to have to build nuclear, in a massive way.

And that’s why the Saskatchewan government has been so focused on this. We need coal and natural gas until we get that nuclear built. Otherwise, we turn out the lights.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

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Saskatchewan First Act introduced to literally keep the lights on in this province, and allow farmers to keep using nitrogen fertilizer

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