Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson near Kipling on June 29. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA, KIPLING – Hold on one second – the proposed Clean Electricity Regulations might not be entirely shutting the door on natural gas-fired power generation post-2035. But we might have to build very expensive carbon capture facilities on our gas-fired power stations.

That’s according to federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who was in Regina on June 28 and near Kipling on June 29. The Regina event was to discuss the “just transition” with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, and the Kipling event was to announce a $50 million contribution to the Cowessess First Nation’s partnership in a 200 megawatt wind farm that will cost several hundred million dollars.

One of the key concerns for the Province of Saskatchewan is the discussion paper regarding the Clean Electricity Regulations, also known as the Clean Electricity Standard. Published just over a year ago, it says that power production post 2035 cannot be generated with fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, except in special circumstances. This is a major problem for Saskatchewan and Alberta. On days when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, or it’s very cold, up to 84 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power and 90 per cent of Alberta’s power comes from those fossil fuels. Meeting that deadline is “impossible,” according to Premier Scott Moe. And those impending regulations were a key driving factor in the Saskatchewan First Act, passed last fall by the Saskatchewan legislature.

But that’s not the final form of those regulations, according to Wilkinson, who said that natural gas power production, with carbon capture, would likely be allowed. He even said coal with carbon capture would be as well.

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Here’s the verbatim transcript of the exchanges on those two days between Pipeline Online and Wilkinson.

June 28:

Pipeline Online: Minister, you spoke a lot about doubling the grid and building more renewable power. Alberta has probably gone further than that than anywhere else in Western Canada. They built 3,618 megawatts of wind. They’ve got 1,258 megawatts of solar. On Monday night, combined, they were producing 15 megawatts, and this morning that 3600 megawatts of wind was producing three. How do you power the economy, when you build these renewables, and the flatline on a regular basis? I’ve written that story no less than 20 times the last 18 months.

Jonathan Wilkinson: So, I would say, folks have to understand that there’s a role for renewables, but there’s also a role for other technologies. Some provinces have an easier path in this whole conversation. So, certainly provinces like Newfoundland and British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec, which have large-scale hydro, have an easier pathway in terms of both the decarbonisation; most of those are actually fully decarbonized, and also, in some cases, to growth of the grid.

In other areas, you will, on a go-forward basis, still need continuing sources of baseload power. Renewables can be helpful, especially when coupled with storage. And there is a significant role for wind and solar. But there’s also a role for nuclear; for small modular reactors. And in the case of Ontario, nuclear is the backbone of their electricity system. There is a role for natural gas-fired power plants, with carbon capture, which is what Capital Power, for example, is doing just outside of Edmonton. It depends very much on the province or territory in which you reside. The pathways are different for different provinces and territories. And what we need are creative and thoughtful pathways for each one of them  to be able to decarbonize and utilize the technologies that are relevant for them.

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Pipeline Online: If I could just follow up there, in regards to you talked about CCUS, and the need for price on carbon or whatnot. The United States Environmental Protection Agency just few weeks ago, announced that they want to see carbon capture across the entire coal and natural gas fleet by 2038, or shut down your plant. And in that decision, they actually announced, I think it was page 61, they cited SaskPower Boundary Dam Unit 3 as a working example. Yet, when I asked to SaskPower Minister, why don’t we build more carbon capture here? Why don’t we perhaps build new coal, more efficient and more new carbon capture, and then you can use that enhance or recovery to reduce your emissions, as you just said, he said the federal government will not allow it.

Jonathan Wilkinson: Well, I don’t want to I don’t want to get into an argument with the Province of Saskatchewan. But I would say that that’s actually not the case. So the regulations, with respect to coal, allow for coal with carbon abatement. You can just go look it up. And I would be enormously surprised if the Clean Electricity Regulations, going forward, don’t allow for natural gas with carbon capture. And in fact, as I said, there are plans that are being developed in Alberta and actually plans, here in Saskatchewan, for exactly that.

In terms of the Americans, they have put out, as you say, a regulatory proposal through the Environmental Protection Agency, with respect to how they’re going to green their grid, and Canada will have to have its own approach that recognizes Canadian realities, just as the Americans will recognize theirs.

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June 29:

Pipeline Online: Minister, you talked about doubling the grid, as you did last night, and SaskPower is talking about adding 3000 megawatts of wind and solar, in addition to this over 600 they already have. But, as you also referenced in response to the question yesterday, we still need backup for it. Where are we going to be building the natural gas to back it up, for nighttime when wind doesn’t blow?

Jonathan Wilkinson: Well? And that’s the question you may actually want to pose to the CEO of SaskPower, who is doing the systems planning. But as I said yesterday, and the conversation that we had there is it is important to have a stable, not just backup, but a stable source ongoing when the sun doesn’t shine and, and in the wind doesn’t blow. Part of that can be battery storage, but part of it will have to be something different than that. And in some provinces, obviously hydro is the answer. In other provinces, it could be gas with carbon capture. And that’s certainly something I think Saskatchewan is looking at now. And in the long run. It could be small modular reactors.

Pipeline Online: Alberta’s built five grid-scale batteries already. And they are used, on average, nine to 23 minutes, three times a month. Is that the type of batteries you’re talking about, or are you talking about something else?

Jonathan Wilkinson: Well, I mean, in different systems, they will operate in different ways. I think what you will see, if you look at Ontario, for example, they see battery storage as a significant component of their plan, going forward, to ensure that they actually have a stable grid. But batteries are actually used to stabilize, right, by and large, and it will be different in different grids.

I think it is important that we actually think about how far can we go, with respect to some of the renewables. And Saskatchewan obviously has huge resources in terms of available land and wind. But it’s also important that you actually have other sources of supply that can enable you to have a reliable grid. And that could be nuclear, that can be gas with capture, that can be hydro, that can be a range of things, including geothermal.

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Pipeline Online: On any given day, Saskatchewan is using up to 84 per cent natural gas and coal, when especially when wind isn’t blowing. We don’t have much solar right now. And Clean Electricity Standard is calling for no more fossil fuel power production except in exceptional circumstances by 2035. How do you propose we replace our 84% of fossil fuel power production in that time, 12 years?

Jonathan Wilkinson: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. There is no clean electricity regulation that’s been published to date. So, I think, I would, if I were you, I would wait to see what the regulation says. But I would suspect that the regulation will actually allow for continued use of gas, particularly in the context of where you’re actually doing carbon capture.

 

And here is his whole speech in Regina on June 28. Watch for more detailed stories soon on this from Pipeline Online:

 

 

 

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Further carbon capture on coal “not an option,” according to CIC Minister Don Morgan

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

Editorial: Facebook and Instagram to start blocking Pipeline Online links on Sunday. This is 1979, on the way to Orwell’s 1984