Poplar River Power Station, Coronach, Saskatchewan. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – Saskatchewan’s power grid has largely returned to normal operations, after a difficult summer without one of its principal coal-fired power stations.

SaskPower told Pipeline Online on Aug. 24 the Poplar River Power Station Unit 1 is now back up, meaning the plant is at full capacity again. A week earlier, Unit 2 returned to service.

The plant was hit hard on June 2 by localized flooding caused by heavy rains in the area. That caused debris, including straw, to flood into the pumphouse which provided cooling water for the power station. It took months of hard work to clear that debris out and repair the damage, and both units were shut down as result.

The net result was no power from one of the largest baseload power stations in the province, at 582 megawatts. In an effort to reduce any impacts on its customers, the Crown corporation took it upon itself to reduce its internal load as much as possible during peak times. This included reduced operations of the carbon capture unit at Boundary Dam Unit 3, and having the Westmoreland-operated coal mines reduce dragline operations for six hours in the evening each day during peak electrical demand.

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Combined with power purchase agreements from neighbouring jurisdictions – Alberta and Manitoba in particular, SaskPower was able to eek through the summer. But now it faces a different issue.

All those reduced hours of coal mining operations have added up, and coal reserves are now depleted at the Estevan area mines. Late last week, Westmoreland told its workers it would step up efforts to increase coal production, starting Aug. 29.

Western Lily Wind Power Facility at Grenfell on July 7, 2023. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Compounding the situation has been repeated days of low wind power generation. As previously reported, on Aug. 6, SaskPower got precisely zero power from its 617 megawatts of grid-scale wind generation for three hours and 17 minutes.

On Aug 22, there was a similar low wind-power generation day. SaskPower reported they didn’t have any periods of zero wind production on Aug. 22, but it did drop below five megawatts for a few brief intervals between 6:35 and 10:50 am.

That’s less than 0.8 per cent, or eight one-thousandths, of rated capacity, during that time frame.

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On Aug. 22, with Poplar River up and running again, SaskPower again saw 87 per cent of its power generation coming from natural gas and coal, according to its Where Your Power Comes From webpage. On that day, an average of 1,292 megawatts came from natural gas (45 per cent of average daily generation) and 42 per cent came from coal (1,177 megawatts of average daily generation). Wind on that day averaged 77 megawatts (12.5 per cent of capacity.) Solar produced an average of 4 megawatts out of 30, or 13.3 per cent of capacity). Hydro was 206 megawatts.

24 hour daily power generation averages for SaskPower, in megawatts (MW). SaskPower

The draft Clean Electricity Regulations announced by the federal government on Aug. 10 would see the elimination of coal-fired generation by Jan. 1, 2035, even with carbon capture. That’s because the proposed regulations would only allow fossil-fuel fired power generation if carbon capture was installed that captured all but 30 tonnes of CO2 per gigawatt-hour. However, the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Carbon Capture project, which has yet to meet its design specifications long term, would still release 140 tonnes per gigawatt hour. That means even if it worked perfectly, it would still be nearly five times the allowed limit under the new regulations.

And large-scale carbon capture on natural gas-fired power generators are still an unproven technology.

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Thus, SaskPower, and Saskatchewan, are faced with not only having to replace nearly all of its existing power generation within 11 years, four months and 21 days from the announcement of the Clean Electricity Regulations, but to also cope with the expectation of a growth in demand of 2.5x by 2050, according to the federal government.

And across the border, in Alberta, wind power generation has bottomed out several times in recent days. At 9:57 a.m. on Sunday, Aug 27, Alberta’s 3,853 megawatts of wind power was generating 59 megawatts, according to data from the Alberta Electric System Operator, as logged by Twitter bot account @ReliableAB. That was 1.5 per cent of rated capacity.

 

At 4:57 a.m. on Aug. 25, Alberta’s wind fleet produced 24 megawatts of power, or 0.6 per cent of nameplate capacity. As this happened before the sun had risen, solar was producing zero and Alberta’s combined 5,144 megawatts of wind and solar power generation was producing 0.4 per cent of rated capacity.

 

 

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Poplar River Power Station back in service 2.5 months after flooding took it out

Total flatline: For 3 hours, 17 minutes on Sunday, not one lightbulb in Saskatchewan was powered by grid-scale wind

Are the federal Clean Electricity Standards impossible to meet? We asked SaskPower

Flooding shuts down major coal power station, leaving SaskPower scrambling to backfill its output and shed load internally

 

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