Premier Scott Moe presenting the keynote address at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference on May 2 in Regina. Photo by Norm Sacuta

 

REGINA – After delivering his keynote speech to the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Regina on May 2, Premier Scott Moe had a lot to say to reporters about power generation and energy transition.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but Moe makes some of the first indications that Saskatchewan might not shut down all of its coal operations by 2030, in defiance of federal regulations. He also says that following an ideological goal of net-zero emissions by 2035 could lead to tripling or quadrupling power rates, something European nations have already seen. Saskatchewan’s not going to allow that. It’s about what’s affordable, and what’s possible, he noted.

Nor is Saskatchewan going to shut off its natural gas power generation on Jan. 1, 2035, as proposed federal regulations would essentially allow Saskatoon to freeze in the dark that morning. “Unrealistic ideology” for federal net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from power production have led to “shifting sands” under our feet.

Nuclear is part of the plan, as are more renewables, but we’re not getting rid of all our fossil-fueled power generation just yet, Moe indicated. Notably, on any particular day this past winter, coal and natural gas-fired power generation accounted for up to 86 per cent of total power production, according to SaskPower’s Where Your Power Comes From web page.

Moe promised “more information on that in the next number of weeks.”

Net Zero by 2035 unachievable

He said, “The fact of the matter is, the policies of net-zero by 2035, Ontario has already indicated that they’re not able to achieve that. Here in Saskatchewan, we’re not going to be able to achieve that. Our original goal was to do something by 2050. That’s where are the plan investments with the Chinook natural gas power plant, the natural gas power plants being built at a Moose Jaw. That’s where our renewable investment also is formulated promised to eventually ensure that our power grid is constantly being cleaned up, year in, year out, and then ultimately targeting that net zero by 2050, through renewables or potentially nuclear, but also you through utilizing the lifecycle of the assets that we have.

Boundary Dam Power Station. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

“The clean electricity standards that are forthcoming along with coal-fired regs, say that no coal is going to be in operation past 2030. And quite likely, no natural gas will be an operation past 2035. We have a natural gas plant that isn’t even completed construction, yet. We have no intention of turning it off in 2035. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to turn our coal off by 2030, in particular, BD3 (Boundary Dam Unit 3), which is the cleanest coal fired plant operating in the world.

“And this isn’t about SaskPower and the province not continuing their march towards greening our power grid. It’s about what’s affordable, and it’s actually about what’s possible, versus some ideological policy that may come from another level of government.

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“So we’re continuing our march in greening our power grid. We’re going to do so in a way that ensures that we have sustainable supply of that power in this province, our electricity, and in a way that continues our planned net-zero by 2050, not necessarily net-zero 2035, as the federal government has shifted those sands yet again.

“And that is the underlying challenge with all of the electricity grids across Canada, not just in Saskatchewan, is as you make decisions and charted a course, build a natural gas plant or two, the sands shift under your very feet. And that adds to the unrealistic ideology and ideology of the policies that are coming from the federal government all too often. So we’re going to continue to charge Saskatchewan’s path, and may not necessarily be Canada’s path, and we’ll have more details on that in the coming days.”

Realistic options

Asked, “Realistically, what are your options?” Moe replied, “Realistically, what are the options of following the federal plan which can’t be achieved? You triple, maybe four times your power rates, you don’t achieve the plan that is put forward and you ultimately, on December the 31st of 2029, you turn off all of the coal fired plants that are here. And then December the 31st of 2034, you turn off all of the gas plants that are operating in the province as well.

“You think about where Saskatoon, the City of Saskatoon, receives their power. January 1 of 2035 is a very cool morning in Saskatoon, because the lights will come on and the furnaces won’t furnace fans won’t work.

“So, the unrealistic policy here is coming from the federal government. The realistic policy is being put forward by SaskPower, in the province of Saskatchewan, and you’re seeing other provinces come to the same conclusions. And so, this isn’t about battling or fighting with the federal government. It’s about what’s real and what’s possible and are and what our efforts are to pull emissions out of our power production grid here in the province.”

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Saskatchewan First Act

Whether that means court action or the Saskatchewan First Act, Moe said, “And we’ll have more details on the tools, ultimately, that we may use in our Saskatchewan plan for sustainable electricity, for lowering the emissions in our electricity generation complex that we have in the province, but also ensuring that that electricity is affordable for families that live here.

And the other areas of the world where these policy decisions have been acted on, not only is has their energy become unaffordable, but their electricity has most certainly become some degree on reliable. We see in the European Union grouping of countries that have essentially sacrificed their energy security by policy decisions that have been made collectively by their governments. And so, we’ll have more information on what tools are, or may be utilized and are necessary.

“Again, this isn’t about a standoff with the federal government. It’s both what’s real, what’s realistic, and what is in the best interest of Saskatchewan people. And those are the folks that we represent as their government. And that’s exactly the interest that we’ll be making these decisions in. We have tools that we can use, and we’re willing to use all of them, if necessary.”

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Consultations with provinces

Asked what the province’s stance has been in consultations with the federal government over the Clean Electricity Standard, Moe said, “Make it realistic with respect to the very minimum consultation of any that has occurred with SaskPower and the government of Saskatchewan. This needs to be a realistic plan.

“Provinces most certainly, and those that are providing in this case electricity within those provinces, that can put together a realistic plan. All provinces are moving to reducing the overall emissions profile of how they are generating electricity, but we also need to ensure that it’s realistic and affordable. It needs to be affordable. If electricity is not affordable, in our province or across our nation, we give up much of what we enjoy the western world. We give up our competitiveness and the ability to attract investment, like what is in this room next to us; the canola crush paths that are being built in Saskatchewan rely on affordable, reliable electricity, in Saskatchewan.

“We also need to continue to march towards a lower emissions electrical grid. And we’re doing that, in this province, through investments in natural gas investments in renewables and looking very seriously through our memorandum of understanding at a significant investment down the way in non-emitting nuclear power.

“And so, there are other important pieces that need to be at the table in any policy development, whether it be the federal Clean Electricity Standards, or whether it be policy development in any province. Yes, you need to ensure that you are reducing the emissions profile. But you also need to ensure that you’re not going to turn the lights out on Canadians, or, in our case, the people in Saskatchewan. And you need to ensure that the electricity that they are being provided with is affordable. And in the case of attracting investment, it needs to be competitive.”

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Energy transition and nuclear

In reference to “energy transition,” Moe said, “We’re going to have some more details on that as well, maybe not just in the next few weeks, but over the course of the next number of months as well. And I think it’s well discussed, we’ve made an announcement around 700 megawatts of renewable power being procured here in the province. We’ve seen the construction, and now coming online of the Chinook plant and Swift Current, there’s construction of a natural gas plant in Moose Jaw, more to come in, in natural gas plant construction in this province. And also seen us participate at the interprovincial level through a memorandum of understanding with New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta on advancing small modular reactor technology in this province. And that is a non-emitting source.

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

 

“We’ve mined the uranium here in the province as well. And quite likely, as we look decades into the future, that’s going to be, very seriously, one of the options, one of the only options, that Saskatchewan is going to be able to use for that clean and automating baseload electrical supply. And so, we are looking. That’s where we are, in the discussion of greening our grid, lowering our emissions profile, but all along, making sure that we’re not losing the sustainability of supply and ensuring that it’s an affordable power source that we have for Saskatchewan residents.”

Carbon capture on natural gas power

Moe was asked if natural gas power stations would need to be equipped with carbon capture capacity. Moe said, “I think it depends what you compare it to.

“If you compare it to nuclear, it’s a higher emitter. If you compare it to coal, it’s a lower emitter, right? Compared to coal with a carbon capture and storage facility, it’s about equal. And so the natural gas will certainly, when it’s replacing coal, whether it be here in Saskatchewan or around the world, is a lower emitter, which is how much of the US has been able to lower their emissions profile is by switching coal to natural gas-fired.”

“I would say also, when it’s a natural gas plant, utilizing Canadian natural gas, you’re then thereby using some of the most sustainable gas that you can find on Earth. And so yes, natural gas certainly is a step in lowering the overall emissions from any electrical generation file, whether that be in Saskatchewan or across Canada. We not only are looking at replacing some of our aged-out coal fired plants that we have, and we replaced some of that with natural gas as we have a higher requirement for power in the province and we’re going to be more power in the years in the future than we do today. Natural gas is going to be a part of that. Renewables is going to be part of driving that cost curve down and nuclear, quite likely, post-2035 era is going to be quite likely to be part of our baseload capacity.

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“The challenge that we’re facing between now and 2050 is the unrealistic policies that are being put forward, for example, to attempt to achieve a net zero by 2035. Bringing out a plant like Shand. And there’s other provinces that have plants as well that have permission to go out to 2035, 2040, 2042. When you stop, essentially, what you’re doing is stranding 12 years, in our case, 12 years of that asset, there’s a cost. And if the federal government has a policy, that is going to place a cost on Saskatchewan residents, the cost of not only stranding that asset, but replacing that asset, in unrealistic short period of time, in Saskatchewan people aren’t going to (inaudible) that cost.

“So, you know, we’re having a very serious look at what is going to impact on the cost of our power grid moving forward. And we’re going to look very seriously at the lowest cost of providing that sustainable power in the future while reducing our emissions from our electricity generation. Target by 2050, not 2035.”

The sulphur dioxide capture portion of the Boundary Dam 3 capture plant. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

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

 

He noted that the federal regulations call for Boundary Dam Unit 3, the sole carbon capture-equipped coal unit, to be shut down by 2030. “By the provincial plan, we’ll see,” he hinted.

This was a key point in the Saskatchewan First Act explicitly notes that Saskatchewan will decide for itself the “regulation of environmental standards and the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and other emissions; and the source of fuel for electrical generation, including renewable and non-renewable resources.”

“We’ll have more information on that in the coming weeks.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s unrealistic to think that all of the coal plants that are currently offering service in Canada … (inaudible). That would be an equally true discussion here.

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“The impact that those types of decisions, ideological decisions, stranded assets across this nation, by federal policy is just simply unrealistic. And it’s going to push power rates higher, three, four times higher. That’s what’s happened in the European Union. I don’t know why, by making the very same policy decisions here in Canada, you wouldn’t expect that to happen. It’s not going to happen in Saskatchewan This is going to change. We’re going to be doing what, using every tool that we have as province of Saskatchewan to ensure that yes, we’re reducing the emissions profile in our electrical generation industry as a whole. But we’re also going to make sure that we have a sustainable power supply for all that needed in the province. And we’re also going to make sure that it is competitively priced, we’re going to keep the cost as low as possible for families and for businesses that ultimately are pointing families in creating wealth in our communities.”

This rig, Panther Drilling Rig 2, drilled a geothermal exploratory well due south of Torquay in the summer of 2021. Its next well was just a few kilometres to the north drilling the first targeted lithium well. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Geothermal

On geothermal power production, Moe said, “As you’re looking for non-emitting, affordable power, geothermal, we’ve been a leader in geothermal innovation here in this province, in some parts, because it is doubling up on some of the innovation and technology that is in this room next to use. The oil industry is part of the innovation in the geothermal space. And so, what we did, understanding that we want to encourage non-emitting power, is on drilling rigs for the percentage that they’re used in geothermal activity, I believe the PST is then not charged on the cost of operations of that rig. And so, what that is, is an incentive to help the geothermal industry continue to expand here in the province.”

 

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