Aleana Young, NDP MLA for Regina University. Facebook

REGINA – NDP MLA Aleana Young’s prior job, before becoming a gourmet cheese store owner and Regina University MLA, was working with the Petroleum Technology Research Centre. She focused specifically on the Aquistore project. Aquistore takes carbon dioxide captured by the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Project and pumps it underground over three kilometres deep, two kilometres west of the power plant.

As such, with several years working in that capacity, Young has arguably more first-hand knowledge of the carbon capture process on coal-fired power generation than any other sitting member of the Legislature. And now she’s the New Democratic Party’s critic for SaskPower.

Pipeline Online spoke to Young by phone on Sept. 20 following the press conference SaskPower held regarding narrowing its siting locations for nuclear development of small modular reactors (SMRs) to either the Elbow or Estevan areas. At that press conference, Pipeline Online asked Crown Investments Corporation (and SaskPower) Minister Don Morgan if it wouldn’t be cheaper and quicker to just implement carbon capture on SaskPower’s coal facilities, or to rebuild with new ones. He said federal regulations wouldn’t allow that. (You can read and watch the entire exchange here).

Young had not been invited to the technical briefing before the press conference, which is usually a matter of course.

Nuclear development

Asked what her thoughts on nuclear development, “I think it’s the first step in a process, an important first step. But my message on the SMR file has been consistent, and its consistent today. This is too critical a potential project, both to our economy, and also to the energy security of our future, and the generational job security of these potential communities, to play politics or to mess around with. So, in recognizing, this is this is a first step of many, it’s really important to me, but more importantly to the people of this province, that this process is clear. It’s transparent, and there’s accountability.”

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The New Democratic Party has a history of some of its MLAs being voraciously against nuclear power development. In particular, Peter Prebble, who was Corrections and Public Safety Minister from 2003-2006 under Premier Lorne Calvert, threatened to quit cabinet if the province did anything along those lines. In a 2005 CBC article, Prebble was quoted as saying, “I would have to step down from cabinet … in the theoretical event that cabinet was to endorse a reactor or a nuclear waste disposal facility.”

When asked what the current NDP stance was on nuclear power, Young said, “Technology changes, and times change. While I know people had strong opinions on that, I know people are going to have strong opinions today. While I’m not one of them, I know it’s important that we don’t dismiss people who have concerns and ask questions out of hand. But if the question is, for the Saskatchewan NDP, can SMRs play an important role in our energy future in Saskatchewan? Absolutely, they can.”

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

 

She doesn’t have any comment yet on the two areas SaskPower is looking at for nuclear development. She noted SaskPower has done real thorough work in identifying these sites, looking at the workforce, hydrology, geology and other critical things.

“I also hope there’s been some consideration of the municipalities and the communities and the impact this will have,” Young said, noting it came up at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention.

“Folks were talking about it across the province, because people understand what big power generation projects can mean for their communities and for their labor force and for the future prosperity of their communities. And I think it’s really important that the government get the site selection process right, certainly on the environmental side, and on the technical side, and especially the economic side as well.”

She noted, “This is real for people’s jobs.”

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On coal

Asked about the prospects of not going ahead with any more carbon capture on coal, and effect of shutting down conventional coal, and the impact on 1,000 coal-related jobs in Estevan, Young replied, “To have a federal government that seems to not care about those costs, real natural things for families and for workers. But it also, on the SMR front, it makes this decision all the more critical, because with coal regulations that are being ruled out, and what that means for Coronach and for Estevan.”

She noted it will result in stranded assets.

“It also means we’re not going to have a lot of other options if we get to 2032 something’s gone sideways, and SMRs aren’t part of the mix.”

Several reporters asked Morgan and SaskPower about a Plan B, should nuclear not work, and the response was there wasn’t a lot of options. To that, Young said jokingly, “I was asked the same thing. And I said, ‘Well, you know, 2029, I’ll be the SaskPower Minister, so I’ll have a different message for you then.’

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

 

“But, seriously, we’ve been consistent in this. Saskatchewan’s energy future, especially when it comes to power generation, and how folks are going to heat their homes, and keep their keep their food cool, and keep food on the table for their families, this is, I believe, the economic challenge of the next decade in Saskatchewan.”

Young noted she has a photo in her office of CCF Premier Tommy Douglas turning on a pipeline, back in the day.

“The Saskatchewan NDP understood, and I believe, understands that energy, whether it’s traditional, whether we’re talking about things like SMR, or you know, talking about the complementary things that we can have with some of the wind and solar that SaskPower has been rolling out, we need all of the above approach to power generation in this province.

“And I’m not convinced, and I’ve been critical, of past decisions by the Saskatchewan Party to simply buy power from other jurisdictions. Some power purchase agreements are certainly always going to be a part of the mix, and they always have been. And I think that’s fine. But we cannot just shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, there’s no Plan B. If SMRs don’t work, other than handing over billions and billions of taxpayer dollars a year, as well as our energy sovereignty, to North Dakota.’

“I don’t think that’s a responsible decision for any government, especially in government representing small but mighty province like Saskatchewan,” Young said.

Electrification of transportation

Asked how Saskatchewan will have enough power generation to handle the federally forced adoption of all new vehicles being zero emissions by 2035, Young said, “Isn’t that the question?”

She’s been asking similar questions as critic. She pointed to SaskPower projections for growth of power generation, and the government’s (and her own) goals for population and economic growth. “That’s one SMRs worth of generation, right, assuming everybody just uses power exactly the same as before. No EVs, nothing different, right?

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“And you look at some of these large projects, which are being announced, which are great. But again, that’s, that’s another SMR, or two, worth of generation, just for that it doesn’t take into consideration any other changes.”

(Each small modular reactor SaskPower is considering is 300 megawatts, or roughly the size of the coal-fired Shand Power Station).

“And certainly, there are opportunities to be more efficient. And I wish there was more being done, both with SaskEnergy and with SaskPower, helping everyday people, helping homeowners access some of those things that can save you a little bit in terms of power at your house.”

She acknowledged that changing your lightbulbs will not make up for the charging needs of an electric pickup.

“I believe the market is going to dictate the uptake on EVs, right? Whether it’s an agriculture, whether it’s in industry, people are going to make that choice, or not make that choice. But where there’s a role for a government is to make sure that Saskatchewan doesn’t have the most impoverished grid and power generating capacity, compared to our neighbors. And you look at the choices that Manitoba is thinking, and you look at some of the calls coming from their opposition next door. It’s around things like helping people and helping industry, helping households electrify so that, if people are making these decisions, having the confidence that they’re going to be able to do that. And that it’s not government or infrastructure that standing in your way of making a decision that might be in your financial interests, or the interests of your family or your business.

“So it’s really the $25 billion question, when we talk about SMRs. But more broadly, when we talk about energy security, in Saskatchewan, it’s not just making sure, 10 years from now, we have the generating capacities to do what we’re doing today. So it’s making sure that we can continue to grow and evolve. And I think everyone in the province should be paying close attention to this. Because, you know, to me, today’s announcement about SMR is a first step up. We cannot afford to make missteps, when it comes to power generation in this province.”

 

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