Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig, left, speaks to Premier Scott Moe on May 19. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

ESTEVAN  – There’s been a tremendous amount of uncertainty in Estevan, home of coal mines feeding two coal-fired power plants. The federal government wants to see all the above eradicated by 2030. But it also wants to see natural gas power generation eliminated by 2035. The intentions in both case it to reach “Net Zero by 2035,” resulting in essentially no greenhouse gas emissions from power generation in Canada.

That’s a big problem for a province which, on multiple occasions last winter, saw as much as 84 per cent of its power generation come from natural gas and coal.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on May 2, “We will not attempt the impossible when it comes to power production.” He reiterated that on May 16, when he laid out the province’s plans for power generation for the next several decades, plans that are in sharp contrast with those of the federal government.

On Friday, May 19, Moe, Crown Investments and SaskPower Minister Don Morgan, Estevan MLA and Minister of SaskBuilds and Procurement Lori Carr went to Estevan to speak to local officials and representatives. That included the City of Estevan, Town of Bienfait, RM of Estevan, United Mine Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Estevan Chamber of Commerce and Southeast College.

The candid meeting took place behind closed doors, without media in attendance.

After the meeting, Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig, who a few years ago retired from a career as a life-long coal miner, said, “Well, the message is clear. Mr. Premier reiterated what he had said the other day, the fact that, you know, the, they’re not ruling out using coal past 2030. It will depend on the economics.

“At the end of the day, we all know we need baseload power. We, as a city, optimistically, are looking at nuclear as a part of our future. But how do we get that? Or how do we get there? And that’s a question that a lot of our coal miners, our people at SaskPower running the power plants are asking, ‘What does this look like?’

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He continued, “And I totally understand. Obviously, if you’re working at the mine, if you’re working at SaskPower, you want some certainty for your livelihood. And today, what I heard was we’re looking pretty good till 2030. After that, it’s hard to say. All bets are off as far as knowing for sure what’s going to happen.

“On the nuclear side, we’re working diligently to be selected for the first site in the province for nuclear. We’re hoping that will happen. And what we’re looking at, there, is two 300 megawatt units. We see that, the city of Estevan, as our future: nuclear. So, you know, in stepping toward that future, we do not want to forget about what has bought us to this point for the last 50 years, which is coal, and power production from coal. So we want to see that transition in a smooth, fluid, again, transparent fashion so that all of our people working here in the Estevan area, have some certainty on what that looks like.

“As far as the younger people, what we would like to see is get them trained, once we know that for sure, we’re going with the nuclear option, which we’re optimistic about. Then the next step is getting site selection. Then once we have site selection, I would suggest immediately making training offered, which is a big part of the solution to get our local people employed in the nuclear sector. So, let’s get our younger people trained. And that’s where this all comes in with (Southeast) College. They’re a very key part of our future as we see it. Let’s get our young people trained as we’re moving toward that future, so that they can have well-paid, reliable jobs once we transition past coal.”

There has been a considerable amount of consternation in the community regarding the future of coal and power generation. Asked about that, Ludwig replied, “There’s definitely been a lot of uncertainty, a lot of uncomfortable decisions, or uncomfortable discussions. What does my future look like? Do I have to leave now, if a good job comes up? Do I take it now, not knowing what my future is going to look like,  as far as power production on the power side in Estevan and the mine, the miners from the coal side, in Estevan.

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“That’s what we’ve been trying to work on for the last year. We’ve been working on trying to get meetings with the federal government, with the provincial government, with SaskPower, with the mine workers and with the IBEW at the table and say, ‘Can we work out a game plan that we can collaborate on, that we can work toward, that we can all be comfortable with? Keeping in mind the federal needs, the provincial needs, all of the environmental needs, but at the same time giving some certainty to our miners and some certainty to our power producers at SaskPower.’

After today, can the people of Estevan take a breather?

Ludwig replied, “Yes. I have to say, I feel better on what’s happened here this past week, with the provincial government, with the announcement that, Mr. Premier have made and the ministers that were here today, Minister Carr and Minister Morgan. We very much appreciate that.

“My understanding is that we can Look toward at least till 2030 the power production from coal in Estevan area will continue. And that gives me a certain sense of certainty at least in the near term, instead of guessing day-to-day. What is the other foot gonna drop? Are we going to gas? Are we shutting the mine down? What does this look like?”

There has been discussion around Estevan about the possibility of one or both power plants being converted to natural gas-fired. While that would ensure continued power production, as well as reduce green house gas emissions (and the related carbon taxes) by half, it would also mean the elimination of hundreds of jobs paying in excess of $100,000 per year. SaskPower and SaskPower Minister Don Morgan have discussed, in recent weeks in Legislative committee, that possibility.

Asked if that possibility came up with the Premier, Ludwig said, “The rumors have been flowing, that yes, we may be looking at gas switching from coal to gas sooner than later. My understanding now is hopefully that will optimistically that will be later and will be past the 2030 window, which you know, gives us a certain sense of certainty that we can plan toward our future you know, in a lot better fashion knowing that.”

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