Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, in Regina, on June 28. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

In 26 years, four months and 10 days, Saskatchewan could need as many as 27.5 reactors. Maybe more.

SASKATOON – Small modular reactors (SMRs) could cost Saskatchewan up to $3 to $5 billion a piece, and SaskPower is planning on four of them, largely driven by federal regulations to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. On Saturday, Aug. 20, that same federal government coughed up some money for the development of those reactors – a total of $74 million.

The announcement was made by Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson in Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan’s Sylvia Fedoruk Centre for Nuclear Innovation.

The press release stated, “This funding will support pre-engineering work and technical studies, environmental assessments, regulatory studies and community and Indigenous engagement to help advance this important project. SaskPower has selected the GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 for potential deployment in Saskatchewan in the mid-2030s, subject to a decision to build that is expected in 2029.

“SMRs, a non-emitting form of energy, can play an important role in decarbonizing provincial electricity grids and heavy-emitting industries and can help remote communities reduce their reliance on costly and high-polluting diesel power. As an example, a 300-megawatt SMR can supply enough non-emitting power for an estimated 300,000 homes.

The release added, “Advancing new non-emitting electricity infrastructure projects is part of the government’s comprehensive approach to bringing clean, affordable and reliable power to every region of Canada, as outlined in Powering Canada Forward and in the draft Clean Electricity Regulations. The Government of Canada has committed over $40 billion in new federal measures to help provinces and has announced over $500 million to date in support of a variety of projects that are helping to build a clean, affordable and reliable grid in Saskatchewan specifically.

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“The shift to a non-emitting, affordable and reliable electricity grid across Canada by 2035 is a nation-building project that requires significant investments, thoughtful regulations and our fullest collaboration. Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to achieving a clean electricity system for the benefit of all Canadians. With a thoughtful, comprehensive and collaborative approach, we can ensure that every region of Canada thrives in the global race to fight climate change and seizes the economic opportunities of a low-carbon future.”

Artist rendition of a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor. GE-Hitachi

 

How many reactors will we actually need?

Based on SaskPower Minister Don Morgan’s high estimate of those four reactors, whose total output would be 1,200 megawatts, the cost could be $20 billion – half of the federal government’s commitment is for the entire nation. But the draft Clean Electricity Regulations (CER) would mean the elimination of the remaining 1,389 megawatts of coal-fired power. SaskPower has noted even if it met its original design specifications, the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Carbon Capture and Storage project would still be emitting nearly five times the carbon dioxide the CER would allow. And the major natural gas generating facilities, at Saskatoon, Swift Current, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, and eventually Lanigan would require carbon capture facilities to be added – of which there has not yet been a commercial scale test done to prove that technology on natural gas-fired power generation. That list does not include major co-generation facilities at the Lloydminster Upgrader or Cory potash mine, which are of similar scale.

The carbon capture facility on Boundary Dam, all-in, was $1.5 billion, of which roughly $1 billion was for the capture facility, in 2014 dollars. And that was on a 150 megawatt unit, not a 360 megawatt facility like the one being completed at Moose Jaw. (A 2018 study by the International CCS Knowledge Centre suggested future coal-fired carbon capture facilities could basically capture twice the CO2, based on the lessons from BD3.)

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If carbon capture was not installed on Saskatchewan’s natural gas fleet totalling 2,065 megawatts, it would take an additional seven SMRs of the same design – each 300 megawatts and $3 to $5 billion a piece, to replace the entire existing natural gas fleet, including peaking plants. But the Clean Electricity Regulations, combined with efforts to phase out gasoline and diesel-powered light vehicle sales by 2035, indicate the electrical grid may need to grow by a factor of 2.5x by 2050, compared to the current time. That would mean 4 reactors to replace coal, plus 7 to replace natural gas generation = 11, then multiplied by 2.5 = 27.5 reactors. And if all this came to pass, that could possibly need to be in place 26 years, four months and 21 days from the announcement of the draft Clean Electricity Regulations.

While those 8,250 megawatts from 27.5 reactors may seem high, it is within the projections of the Clean Electricity Regulations and SaskPower’s posted peak demand of 3910 megawatts on Dec. 30, 2021, a -31 C day where there was little wind and little sun. Indeed, 2.5 x 3,910 megawatts would actually require 9,775 megawatts of power generation. Even if every single dam in Saskatchewan was full and hydro was producing its maximum 865 megawatts, if there was no wind and the sun was down, SaskPower would require the equivalent power of 30 small modular reactors, 26 more than what is currently planned. And that would be with none of them being down for maintenance when demand spikes.

As for wind power generation in such scenario, SaskPower reported zero wind power production for 3 hours and 17 minutes on Aug. 6. Pipeline Online has frequently reported how Alberta’s now 3,853 megawatts of wind generation drops to as low as 2 megawatts at times. And solar goes to zero every night when the sun goes down.

Guilbeault and Wilkinson statements

There was no press release from either the government of Saskatchewan or SaskPower over the weekend regarding this announcement, for which public notification went out mid-afternoon on Friday. The federal press release offered the following quotes:

Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, said, “Delivering clean, reliable and affordable electricity will look different in every region of Canada. That is why the Government of Canada is committing up to $74 million to explore the potential for small modular reactors in Saskatchewan to provide abundant non-emitting power, drive economic growth and create good jobs throughout Saskatchewan. With today’s announcement, we are investing in the future of nuclear technology, building on Canada’s decades-long legacy as a responsible global leader in nuclear power, and leveraging Saskatchewan’s world-leading production of uranium to position the province to thrive in a rapidly decarbonizing global economy.”

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announcing the new social cost. Twitter/Steven Guilbeault

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, said, “Saskatchewan has a significant competitive advantage with an abundance of natural resources to be a leader in the development of clean, affordable and reliable electricity grid. Building a clean electricity grid in Saskatchewan is good for the economy, good for communities and good for the planet. The project announced today is yet another example of how our two levels of government can work together to finance the clean energy projects needed to power Saskatchewan’s thriving economy.”

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Getting some carbon tax back

The $74 million actually comes from two federal sources – Up to $50 million for this project has been committed to SaskPower from NRCan’s Electricity Predevelopment Program — a $250-million program to support pre-development activities of clean electricity projects of national significance, such as inter-provincial electricity transmission projects and small modular reactors. “These kinds of projects will be critical for supporting economic development through investments in new infrastructure and the enhanced security and reliability of our clean energy supply. The funding announced today is conditional on the finalization of a Contribution Agreement between NRCan and SaskPower, which is currently underway,” the release said.

And some of that carbon tax money paid at the pump, on power and natural gas bills in Saskatchewan will come back. The release noted, “Additionally, over $24 million for this project has been committed to the Government of Saskatchewan from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Future Electricity Fund. This program returns pollution pricing proceeds to support clean energy projects, energy-efficient technologies and other initiatives that will help Canada meet its climate goals and achieve a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050. The fund is intended to help spur innovation and encourage the adoption of cleaner technologies and fuels in Canada — including Saskatchewan’s small modular reactor project.”

The federal press release also took pains to list seven different “recent federal investments in Saskatchewan’s electricity sector,” including $50 million for the Bekevar Wind Power Project. Six of those seven had Indigenous components, either for communities or specific projects.

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