Bronwyn Eyre, Minster of Justice and Attorney General. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

 

REGINA – Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson had a lot to say about Canada’s future in his June 28 speech to the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce on the “just transition.” Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre counters that the provinces have a say, too.

Eyre spoke to Pipeline Online on July 4 by phone.

She started by saying that Wilkinson never costs out the “federal grand plan,” especially when it comes to converting the Saskatchewan power grid to a low-carbon dioxide emission grid. The proposed Clean Fuel Standard, also referred to as the Clean Fuel Regulations, say natural gas and coal cannot be used for power generation post-2035 unless in special circumstances. But Wilkinson told Pipeline Online he expected natural gas would be allowed, so long as carbon capture is installed on it. Also, small modular reactors (SMRs) would be part of the solution.

On any particular day, up to 84 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power comes from coal and natural gas. If the Boundary Dam project, which cost roughly a billion dollars for the capture plant 9 years ago is an example, that would mean billions of dollars SaskPower would have to spend on capture plants, likely at Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Lanigan and possibly North Battleford.

Wilkinson also indicated coal-fired power generation, with carbon capture, might be allowed to continue, but noted the regulations have not been finalized yet.

With no small amount of irony in her voice, Eyre said it was “very magnanimous” to indicate the federal government might allow these things.

She said, “He doesn’t counter that fact for fact when Saskatchewan and SaskPower submits, and have submitted over the course of months, how impossible it is; how literally impossible it is to transition the way the federal government is mandating by 2035 and nor in his comments. Do I see any tangible cost breakdown of the implications of that net zero target change from 2050 to 2035? We know that SaskPower, as one example, has told federal officials at Environment and Climate Change Canada over the course of many months, that it is impossible, based on the current power mix, to meet 2035. And Minister Wilkinson continues to insist that some vague power mix including, hydro remains possible in Saskatchewan, when we know, and officials have been told repeatedly, that for one for one thing Manitoba doesn’t have enough hydro to offer Saskatchewan to make that mix work.

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“I guess I would say that, that the cost has to be part of abstract planning. And the costs, of course, have a real impact for the people of the province, the businesses of the province, the economy of the province, and the future of the province. When I start to see fact for fact, analysis, that will be one thing, but I don’t see that in the comments that Minister Wilkinson made last week. I see more abstract plans, more vague threats.

“I think is the most important I think the most important thing to keep in mind, as a reader, is that the federal government had net-zero plans for 2050 and arbitrarily changed those plans to 2035.”

Federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, in Regina, on June 28. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

 

Show me the money

As for going nuclear, Eyre said SMRs are more likely to be in place by the late 2030s, at the earliest.

“Where does that leave us in the meantime? Obviously natural gas is our transition power source. And the Feds may say well, you can only fire that up if you have carbon capture, but that technology, again to my point about where’s the costing? I would like to hear Minister Wilkinson outline the cost of saying that. Because CCUS on natural gas is largely untested and can add, as you say, millions of extra costs to what is basically a clean, efficient way of powering the province. It is a shackle on what works.

“Show me the money. Show me the cost.”

Saskatchewan First Act

Eyre said this is goes back to why the provincial government passed the Saskatchewan First Act, which had as one of its three key focuses reasserting provincial control over power generation, under Section 92a of the constitution. Eyre pointed out that Premier Scott Moe, “announced at the end of session about how we reserve the right to keep our province powered in a safe and secure, in terms of rates, in a fashion that secures competitive rates and affordable rates for our business and our consumer businesses and our consumers in this province. That’s why that is so significant. It all comes back to this, because over and over and over these goalposts change but also these mandates permission, in quotes. It’s simply not their jurisdiction to be mandating anything.”

Double the grid, or more

That’s largely a discussion about replacing what Saskatchewan already has for power generation, but Wilkinson spoke of doubling the electrical grid, or more, with “clean power generation” being key. But the morning of his speech, Alberta’s 3,618 megawatts of wind power was producing 3 megawatts, less than one-tenth of one per cent of nameplate capacity.

This is why Eyre said Wilkinson’s plans are impossible to meet.

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On June 29, Wilkinson announced $50 million for Cowessess First Nation’s contribution to a 200 megawatt wind project near Kipling called Bekevar Yotin Wind Facility. That basically staked Cowessess’ 17 per cent equity in the project, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Eyre noted the money was “basically our money. That’s money that’s returned through money that was collected by the federal government under the output based emitters and so on. And so, that is now also magnanimously returned to the province, and that’s what we saw announced at Kipling.”

She said there is some money, like that, flowing back to the province. But there has not been one dollar for SMRs, Eyre said. “It’s not as if federal money that’s flowing is free money. It’s not.”

She reiterated, “You cannot move from coal to natural gas to SMRs, and put a shackle on natural gas, and pretend there’s going to be hydro from Manitoba when it’s impossible.”

Eyre pointed out that for seven days during the depths of last winter, wind produced no power in Saskatchewan. “It can be part of the mix, and it is, and more has been brought on. But it cannot be the mix. The only way to keep the lights on the province is natural gas. And the if the only way you can actually run that is through millions and millions and millions of dollars of investment on untested technology through CCUS (carbon capture, utilization and storage). That should be of major concern, and is a major concert to the power fundamentals of the province, which is why we saw Sask First.”

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Resource tables

Wilkinson pointed out that Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces not taking part in “regional resource tables.” Eyre countered that “the problem with the regional tables is that they are closely bound up with just transition.”

“I think we all recognize the issues with just transition,” she said, pointing out that briefing documents from Wilkinson’s ministry point out just a transition could affect 13 per cent of the industrial workforce in Canada, or 3 million workers.

The “resource tables” would bind Saskatchewan to a transition plan, (no longer called a transition plan, she pointed out), which could harm this province. Eyre sent a letter to Wilkinson in June about this. “We’re not going to be participating in processes with dangerous string attached which could hurt our economy,” she said. This does not preclude bilateral discussions she added.

The House of Commons Standing Committee for Natural Resources put out a report on the “just transition,” and suggested the federal government use the coal transition plan as a model for oil and gas, but actually follow all parts of it, not exclude major portions as what has occurred with coal. Pipeline Online asked Wilkinson about this, and he said there was “more that we need to do” regarding the coal transition. To this, Eyre said the federal government has been missing in action, especially in southeast Saskatchewan.

Eyre said, “Minister Wilkinson and Minister (Chrystia) Freeland have referred to just transition as the new industrial revolution. But when I addressed the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, I said that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t about turning off the lights, driving people out of work, and going backward.”

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Transforming Canada

In many ways, the “just transition” about the utter transformation of Canada, from the industries we work in, to the vehicles we drive to how we heat our homes. But Eyre said, “It is. But unfortunately, provinces have a say in this.”

She noted out former Saskatchewan Premier Allan Blakeney and former Alberta Premier Peter Loughheed fought for, and got, provincial exclusive constitutional power, as a counterbalance to federal power. “It’s in there for a reason. It’s exclusive over natural resources, and it’s exclusive over power generation.

“So, they may see they want to transform us and they might want to cap this, cap that, and order us to get hydro where there is no hydro, and replace what works with wind, if the wind doesn’t blow. The point is that we have to be responsible. We have to be good stewards of the public purse. And we have a safety issue in Saskatchewan, and that’s the freezing cold. And so, we have to be very cautious before we go down the road of some Western European countries and so on in terms of going all in on anything.”

 

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Wilkinson says there are two paths: one “accepts the scientific reality of climate change,” the other “is blind hope”

 

Jonathan Wilkinson’s full Just Transition speech, verbatim

 

Natural gas power generation with carbon capture likely allowed post-2035, says federal natural resources minister