Premier Scott Moe, saying Saskatchewan will not attempt the impossible. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – Saskatchewan has been put in an “impossible position” when it comes to meeting impeding the federal Clean Electricity Standard by 2035, according to Premier Scott Moe. While we will do our best, we cannot meet those federal expectations. And if the feds are serious about reducing emissions, Saskatchewan is asking for billions of dollars to help it get there.

The Canadian federal Government is moving towards a “Net Zero” power grid by 2035, seeking to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from coal and natural gas power generation. The proposed Clean Electricity Standard (also referred to as Clean Electricity Regulations, or CER), call for the elimination of coal and natural gas power production, except in exceptional circumstances, by 2035.

However, coal and natural gas on some days account for up to 84 per cent of power generation in Saskatchewan. Thus, on May 16, the Saskatchewan government and its power utility, SaskPower, declared it would not be striving for Net Zero by 2035, as that would be impossible. It would instead aim for 2050.

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Will not attempt the impossible

Moe said, “I want to be very clear about this. In Saskatchewan, we will not attempt the impossible when it comes to power production in our province. We will not risk plunging our homes, our schools, our hospitals, our special care homes, our businesses into the into the cold and darkness because of the ideological whims of others. We will not increase power costs for our businesses and our families to the point where they become completely unaffordable.

“If we were to do that, we wouldn’t grow anything in Saskatchewan. We wouldn’t move anything. We wouldn’t go anywhere. And we’d get awful cold in a hurry. Saskatchewan must have affordable and reliable electricity available on demand.

“And under our watch it most certainly is going to. We are choosing the Saskatchewan plan. And now I would say that the federal government has a choice as well. And let’s hope they make the right one.”

 

Moe made Saskatchewan’s case with the assistance of Crown Investments Corporation and SaskPower Minister Don Morgan, Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre and SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya.  This press conference took place at the Legislature in Regina on May 16.

It started with Pandya laying out the predicament SaskPower is in. He noted how SaskPower’s nameplate generation capacity is currently 40 per cent natural gas and 25 per cent coal. (Pipeline Online has repeatedly reported over the winter how, according to SaskPower’s own publicly released data, numerous times up to 84 per cent of power generation came from natural gas and coal combined.)

He spoke of how SaskPower has been working to replace its coal fleet with natural gas-fired power generation, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and building out wind and solar generation. But the increasing electrification of the transportation sector, combined with the federal push to replace fossil fuel generation with non-emitting power generation, is not feasible in the time frame the feds are providing.

“It’s not feasible for us to acquire the capital material and labor needed to transition over 150% of our generation system that took us 93 years to build in a short 12 years. Even if we introduce our first nuclear SMR small modular reactor by 2035, achieving net-zero electricity system by 2035 in Saskatchewan is not possible. And beyond the challenges of having to rebuild over 150% of our generating capacity, the transition to net-zero will require us to have a significant build out of new transmission lines, as well as modernizing our electricity grid, while at the same time sustaining the current power grid in the province of Saskatchewan.”

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Wind didn’t blow for 7 days

Despite SaskPower’s continued efforts to expand wind and solar generation by an additional 600 megawatts of wind and 400 megawatts of solar by 2027, and a total of 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar by 2035, Pandya was blunt in describing the realistic expectations from those power sources.

Pandya said, “Renewable generation such as wind and solar doesn’t, doesn’t produce electricity when the wind doesn’t blow or its sun doesn’t shine. And given the intermittency of renewables, about 80 per cent of the energy consumed in Saskatchewan must come from reliable baseload sources that can provide power 24/7.”

Golden South Wind Farm, southeast of Assiniboia, on Aug. 1, 2022. On that day it was quite windy, unlike Oct. 3 and 4. Photo by Brian Zinchuk.

He also noted, “SaskPower currently has 617 megawatts of wind generation and on the hottest or coldest days of the year, when demand for electricity is that it is at its highest, there’s often very little wind for days at a time, with minimal electricity provided for wind generation. We had a period in December, where there was no wind between Alberta and Saskatchewan, so across both prairie provinces, for seven days in a row.”

“So as a result, natural gas generation is necessary to ensure reliability as we add renewables. Additionally, SaskPower continues to evaluate nuclear small modular reactors as a potential non emitting baseload source of electricity that could be available as early as 2034.”

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During that period, the Alberta Electric System Operator issued several “grid alerts,” warning customers not to use their dishwashers and other high-power electrical devisces at suppertime lest the grid go down, resulting in possible rolling blackouts. And that occurred before widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

Twitter/Alberta Electric System Operator

Moe pointed to the $1.6 billion Boundary Dam Unit 3 Carbon Capture and Storage Project (BD3), $605 million Chinook natural gas power station at Swift Current, and $780 million Great Plains Power Station at Moose Jaw as investments this province has already made to reduce emissions. (Combined cycle natural gas power stations produce roughly half the greenhouse gas emissions as an unabated coal plant).

Moe said, “The investments, however, are not good enough to meet the federal government’s net zero emissions grid by 2035. And we’re expecting new regulations in that Clean Electricity Standard that are so severe that Saskatchewan Power would not be able to operate any coal or natural gas power plant, even with the CCS technology that we currently have employed today. That means we would be faced with shutting down our Boundary Dam3 facility. It means we would have to consider shutting down our natural gas plants, including the ones that we have just opened, and the ones that have not even yet opened.

“Ant that begs the question, to our province and to SaskPower, is where are we going to get our baseload electricity from? Wind and solar can supplement power production but they can’t provide baseload generation. This target does not contemplate the eventualities of not having enough baseload power to support our grid, thereby support our Saskatchewan families and industries that are employing those families. This target does not contemplate the extraordinary costs associated with meeting said targets. It provides us with an unreliable power supply alongside skyrocketing rates. Saskatchewan is plan is affordable and it’s realistic.”

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Saskatchewan plan

Moe called upon the federal government to put up serious money to help Saskatchewan develop nuclear reactors, and to top out the carbon tax SaskPower pays at the current $65 per tonne CO2 equivalent (CO2e)

Moe said, “Saskatchewan’s plan is affordable and it’s realistic. We will continue to invest over the course of the next decade to replace generation that has come to the end of its life, and to grow our electricity production to keep pace with our economic as well as our population growth in the province.

“This investment will also help us to further reduce emissions, by adding more renewable power, more technologies, such as small modular reactors, a safe and reliable and affordable power system for Saskatchewan people while continuing to reduce our emissions profile.

“The plan being put forward today, Saskatchewan’s plan, does just that.

“And so today, we are asking the federal government to support the Saskatchewan plan. We believe that the federal government can make a substantial contribution to affordable, reliable power that reduces emissions in this province, by first recognizing Saskatchewan plan to achieve net-zero by the year 2050.

“Second, by contributing to the cost of emissions reduction in Saskatchewan’s plan by providing SaskPower with grants for 75 per cent of the cost of the first small modular reactor that will be built in Saskatchewan, 50 per cent of the cost of new renewable and low emission power sources that are being utilized in Saskatchewan.

“And under the Saskatchewan plan, the federal government would contribute then about $6 billion, the Saskatchewan people would be responsible for the remaining $28 billion. With that federal contribution, the Saskatchewan plan can hold annual rate increases to about 3 per cent, which is in stark contrast, I would say to the unaffordable plan by the federal government, which results in a total rate increase of 107 per cent by the year 2035.

“The federal government can also increase affordability for SaskPower customers, thereby Saskatchewan residents, by freezing its carbon tax on electricity in Saskatchewan at its current rate of $65 per tonne, rather than increasing it to $170 per tonne or even beyond. This step, alone, would save SaskPower customers billions of dollars over the course of the next number of years.

“Finally, the Saskatchewan plan also means that we will consider running our fossil fuel generated electricity production and facilities to the end of their life. But it’s consideration that we will continue to evaluate, as part of our commitment, to keep electricity rates affordable, and to protect the reliability of the Saskatchewan electricity grid.

“There’s a pretty clear choice: As the government of Saskatchewan and SaskPower move forward and making the decisions on the future of power production in our province. On the one hand we have the federal plan that is unaffordable. It jeopardizes the reliability of our power system. It imposes unrealistic emission standards and timelines for our province, thereby making it unachievable. That plan would damage our economy as well driving up the costs for Saskatchewan families and businesses by $45 billion and result in a doubling at the very least of our power rates by the year 2035, simply because the federal government has continually desired to move those goalposts.

“Or we have the Saskatchewan plan, which will keep power rates affordable, will maintain and grow as a safe and reliable power system in this province. It will keep reducing emissions and ultimately become net-zero by the year 2050.”

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End of life

Running out our fossil fuel generation to “end of life” could mean burning coal in Saskatchewan a lot longer than the federal government will currently allow. When asked what the end of life for Boundary Dam Unit 3 was, Pandya noted the date was 2044. That would be 30 years after it went online.

Similarly, Shand Power Station would be 2042. But Boundary Dam 6 and Poplar River Power Station are currently schedule for end of life by 2030. And there has been discussion of converting Shand to natural gas, leaving open the question of will the Estevan-area mines stay open to power just one mid-sized coal unit after BD 5 and BD6 shut down. That was not addressed during the press conference.

Pandya said, “We will need time to look at how we transition to other baseload generational methods that we have. And we don’t have a lot in Saskatchewan, it’s quite likely going to be in the in the nuclear sphere. We’re maximizing our hydro opportunities, maximizing many of our other baseload opportunities, looking at, but in its infancy, some of the battery opportunities are around a renewables. But ultimately, at the end of the day, that 80 per cent baseload power that is currently coming from natural gas and coal, is going to have to continue to come from quite likely those sources for the foreseeable future.”

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Carbon capture

The previous week, the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new regulations that would require all coal and natural gas-fired power plants to have carbon capture and storage (CCS) installed by 2038. Boundary Dam Unit 3 was cited by the EPA as a successful example of the technology.

Asked if SaskPower was looking at putting carbon capture on Boundary Dam Unit 6, Aspen or Chinook Power Stations, Moe replied, “We do have the only operating carbon capture and storage, and ultimately using that carbon and enhanced oil recovery in the Weyburn-Midale field in which you’re very familiar with.

“But we do have a one operating carbon capture and storage facility, they’re now on BD3. And I think what we’re stating today is we’re quite likely going to operate that at least as long as 2035, and would reserve the opportunity to even operate that particular facility beyond that

“When I looked at the EPA, a paper that we came out, I believe, just last week, it very closely aligned actually with what the Saskatchewan plan is here today. I fact in that very papers, I can’t remember the page number, 56 or so, it actually references BD3, the carbon capture and storage facility that we have operating here in Saskatchewan, as one of the potential opportunities for coal-fired power plants to continue to operate in the US, and then actually utilizing that carbon capture potentially on natural gas plants down the way.

“All of that is good. I think all of that, in fairness, Saskatchewan, SaskPower would continuously be looking at. But under the guise of ensuring that the power that we’re providing is reliable, and affordable, here in this province. Ultimately, it needs to remain affordable for Saskatchewan families across the province, in particular, those in the north, that are heating their homes with electricity quite often, if not virtually 100 per cent of the time.

“It needs to be affordable for the industries that are operating here today. And the industries that are arriving here, as that ultimately is where our employment comes from. At the end of the day, we are an export driven province. That’s how we create our wealth and we need to be competitive with our electricity rates,” he said. Moe noted industry is interested in seeing a lower emissions profile for electricity production.

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As for carbon capture on natural gas plants, Morgan said, “In Alberta, they had largely a coal fleet which they have almost completely converted to natural gas. Some of the facilities that they’re doing, they’re working on doing carbon capture on the natural gas facility. SaskPower was watching that very closely. But they’re likely a year or two out. It’s new technology and may and may come to pass.

“We’ve asked them to focus on our facilities in Saskatchewan to make sure they would be ready to have carbon capture added to them, if at some point in time, that becomes a viable option. But right now nobody’s doing it. You’re likely aware in Alberta, there’s the Genesee one that’s underway right now as as a pilot. So hopefully that works.

“To your point, it will be a huge challenge, if the federal government mandates that we will take natural gas out of our homes for heating source. It is it is physically impossible to try and even consider that. We see the high cost of electric heat in in northern Saskatchewan (where) natural gas isn’t available. But if we tried to do that in our larger centers here, it is a frightening prospect.”

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Manitoba Hydro’s well is running dry

Pandya pointed to pressure from the federal government to buy additional non-emitting hydro power from Manitoba Hydro. But it turns out there’s not much left to buy, and what we are getting, we won’t be getting down the road.

Pandya noted that SaskPower has agreements with Manitoba Hydro to purchase up to 290 megawatts of power. That includes a recent 20 year contract for part of that. But don’t count on that, or any more.

“So we’ve talked to Manitoba about the possibility of importing more. But Manitoba, as their economy continues to grow, as they continue to see electrification more broadly, will require that power back. And so they’ve served of notice that they’ll likely take that power back from us.”

Pandya said Manitoba might have another 100 or 200 megawatts of capacity there. “But that’s not sufficient to meet, of course, our peak load requirements in the winter or the summer,” he said.

Nuclear

Asked about nuclear, Moe said, “I’m not aware of another option that can provide us that 80% baseload power over time. In the you know, that you would alluded to in a previous question that we ultimately will require. There might be some technologies that come on that chip away at the edges, maybe some, you know, access to affordable battery power to coincide with some renewables.”

He said he’s not aware of any other technology that could provide that much baseload power and provide it affordably.

 

Editor’s note: watch for additional upcoming stories regarding Saskatchewan’s options if the federal government won’t bend, and nuclear power as the low-emitting option.

 

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