This is either Boundary Dam Unit 4 or 5. Either way, it’s going to have to chug a long a few more years. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

They can’t, yet, so they won’t

ESTEVAN, REGINA – Back when the federal Conservatives were still in power, they brought in regulations that said coal-fired power generating units were supposed to be shut down after 50 years in operation, unless carbon capture was implemented. This is what happened with Boundary Dam Power Station Unit 3, which was rebuilt with carbon capture and went back online in 2014.

But the clock was ticking on the remaining units of Boundary Dam Power Station. Unit 4 was supposed to shut down by Dec. 31, 2021, and Unit 5 three years later, on Dec. 31, 2024.

Except that Unit 4 did not shut down. While not in regular use, the coal-fired generator has been used sporadically ever since, because it was needed. Indeed, from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023, it was used for 38 per cent of the year.

On April 4, SaskPower said they would be extending the lives of both of those 139 megawatt units.

SaskPower spokesperson Joel Cherry told Pipeline Online, “We’re going to keep BD 4 in laid up status until Great Plains Power Station comes online, or until March 31, 2024.”

The most recent plan was to shut down, for good, Unit 4 by March 31, 2023.

“We’ve been bringing that facility online to help during periods of higher demand, or when we’ve had planned or unplanned outages at other facilities. And we need that for a while longer,” he said.

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They can’t just flip a switch in the control room and get instant power if, for instance, the wind decides not to blow (as occurred on April 3 and 4, with wind output averaging just 38 megawatts on April 3 and 24 megawatts on April 4, despite 617 megawatts of grid-scale wind nameplate capacity.)

On April 4, wind power in Saskatchewan averaged just 3.9 per cent of its nameplate capacity. And as an average, that means at times it was lower. SaskPower

“We can spin it up in as little as two days, if necessary, when we’re anticipating high demand planned or unplanned outages elsewhere.”

Cherry said, “We’re also announcing now that BD5, which is scheduled to be retired at the end of next year, Dec. 31, 2024 – we’re also going to have that in layup state for a couple of years after that as well.”

They will be exposed to the carbon tax, which as of April 1, will be $65 per tonne CO2, and a year from now, $80 a tonne, then $95 a tonne April 1, 2025, $110 a tonne April 1, 2026 and $125 a tonne April 1, 2027.

 

That’s the year that the proposed upgraded 650 megawatt transmission line interconnect with the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which runs from North Dakota to the Texas panhandle, is scheduled to be in place. The interconnect will be bi-directional, and will cost a little over $1 billion over 20 years.

Southwest Power Pool generation mix at 12:15 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2023. Southwest Power Pool

And power from the SPP varies greatly in its generation mix from day-to-day. Some days wind is around 65 per cent. But other days, it’s 18 per cent, and coal is 45 per cent, with natural gas at 28. And SaskPower will not be paying carbon tax on that power.

Cherry said the Great Plains Power Station at Moose Jaw is expected to be online in 2024, but he didn’t have a firm date. If it wasn’t ready by the end of March that year, “We would keep BD4 running longer.”

He noted, “That is an old facility. I think it came online 1970 or something like that. So it’s at the end of its useful life. But we’ll keep it available as long as we need to, until Great Plains comes up in 2024.

According to both the Alberta Electric System Operator and SaskPower’s own Where Your Power Comes From, SaskPower currently exports roughly 150 megawatts to Alberta on most days.

Asked if Units 4 and 5 could be converted to natural gas, he said, “I don’t think I can say categorically, but there they are old facilities. They’re at the end of their useful life. And so doing something like that would be more costly and difficult than with a newer unit.”

SaskPower is also looking at building a 370 megawatt natural gas-fired power station at Lanigan.

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The Crown Corporation is also intent on adding an additional 3,000 megawatts of grid-scale wind and solar power, in addition to the existing 617 megawatts of wind and 30 megawatts of solar capacity.

Asked how much natural gas generation are we going to build to back up that power for days like Monday morning, when Alberta saw its wind fleet drop to one per cent output, he replied, “So we have great plains, which is will be up within a year, up to 360 (megawatts). The plant we’re looking at near Lanagan is similar, it would be like Chinook and, and Great Plains, so also in the 360 range.

“We’re also adding a pair of natural gas turbines to a couple of our existing facilities, Ermine and Yellowhead.”

Ermine Power Station would add 46 megawatts by May 2025. Similarly, the 46 megawatt simple cycle natural gas turbine planned expansion of Yellowhead Power Station, which is to be in service by December 2025. On its website, SaskPower notes, “Once up and running, the new turbine will also provide backup power to support renewable generation — like wind and solar. This is part of a staged approach to replace conventional coal generation that must be retired by 2030.”

Cherry mentioned coal-to-gas conversion could hypothetically be another source of natural gas power generation, but thaw would be replacing coal in that scenario.

Cherry noted that Premier Scott Moe, SaskPower Minister Don Morgan, and CEO Rupen Pandya had all said to varying degrees that achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 (the federal government’s goal) was not achievable.

 

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Jim Warren, Part 1: The energy industry has been at the mercy of environmentalists and their allies in government for far too long