Dr. Tammy Nemeth. Submitted

Dear editor:

The Pipeline Online article by Brian Zinchuk, about recent statements made by the Hon. Don Morgan regarding the future of electricity generation in Saskatchewan, is a wake-up call for the province and Canadians. https://pipelineonline.ca/estevan-mayor-on-coal-the-closer-we-get-without-any-good-answers-by-2030/

Minister Morgan’s comments seem to mean the following:

  1. There is no “net-zero” emissions, there is only “absolute zero.”

This means the federal government has been disingenuous in its policies and negotiations with the provinces. If carbon capture can significantly reduce emissions why can’t the province continue to use coal and natural gas for its electricity production combined with CCS? It seems the real intent with these policies is decarbonization—no emissions from hydrocarbons at all.

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  1. The federal government is now in the business of usurping provincial authority over resource use and development within provincial boundaries. 

Since the electricity generated is or could be kept solely within Saskatchewan’s borders, the federal government does not have the jurisdiction to instruct the province on how it generates that electricity. To suggest otherwise is to take a very loose interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling on the carbon tax, which allowed the federal government to “put a price on carbon emissions.” As long as provinces are paying that price the federal government cannot tell them to stop using a particular resource. Indeed, the proposed framework for the Clean Electricity Standard states that if fossil fuel plants exceed the arbitrary emission intensity limits, then they would “be subject to a financial compliance payment in line with the carbon price at the time.” https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/canadian-environmental-protection-act-registry/publications/proposed-frame-clean-electricity-regulations.html

Is the Minister hearing something different from his federal counterparts that has him believe this proposed framework will not remain in its current shape?

  1. The province ought to take a stand to defend its jurisdiction in the face of hostile and economically destructive federal encroachment as proposed in the Clean Electricity Standard.

The federal Clean Electricity Standard has not yet been passed. The federal government does not have jurisdiction to assert policies in the realm of the electricity sector unless it crosses a provincial or national border. Perhaps a legal opinion needs to be obtained on whether the federal government, based on a traditional interpretation of Canada’s constitution and its historical division of powers as a federal system, even has the right to legislate an electricity standard in the first place. That being said, by joining an international grid and accepting power from other provinces, SaskPower enables the federal government to intervene in Saskatchewan’s affairs and reduces its self-sufficiency and power reliability at great cost. Perhaps those arrangements ought to be reconsidered. A better alternative would be to build up domestic capacity, using the resources Saskatchewan has in abundance, so that Saskatchewan would not only be self-sufficient in its electricity production, but also retain its highly-skilled work force and offer affordable and reliable energy to its citizens, thereby providing a competitive advantage compared to other jurisdictions. A recent Reuters article has suggested that European companies are looking to relocate to areas that offer more affordable and secure energy – Saskatchewan could be such a destination, but only if it asserts its rightful constitutional authority over its resource and economic development.

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With the prospects of additional carbon capture on coal-fired power now diminished, the Boundary Dam Unit 3 capture plant might end up being the only one of its kind in this province. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

With respect to arguments suggesting the Supreme Court ruling on the carbon tax grants the federal government jurisdiction because emissions have no boundaries, one need only counter that if that is true, then until China, India, Russia, and other large global emitters stop building coal power plants and start shutting down their existing ones, Saskatchewan will continue to keep its coal and natural gas power plants open. (For context, those three countries produce over 42 per cent of global CO2 emissions, Canada produces 1 per cent; China alone has 1,064 GW installed coal thermal power. It will be building an additional 270 GW over the next 3 years — that’s the equivalent of 180 Boundary Dam stations.)

The government of Saskatchewan has a duty to its citizens to provide reliable, affordable, and secure energy, especially since it is produced within its borders. If other provinces choose to embrace energy poverty, that is their decision; Saskatchewan can choose otherwise and pursue energy and economic prosperity. The question is: Will it do so?

Sincerely,

Dr. Tammy Nemeth

Energy Security Analyst

Oxford, UK

(Editor’s note, Dr. Tammy Nemeth grew up in Saskatchewan)

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Estevan mayor on coal: “The closer we get without any good answers by 2030, the harder it is for everyone in our community. We deserve some answers”