SaskPower’s Chinook Power Station, comissioned in 2019, is one of the reasons we set natural gas consumption records in the last week of 2021. Photo courtesy SaskPower

Not only was Saskatchewan setting electrical consumption records during the cold snap of last week of December, we also set two consecutive natural gas consumption records, too.

According to SaskEnergy in a Dec. 31 release, “Extreme cold weather across Saskatchewan this week resulted in record-breaking natural gas demand in the province. On December 28 and 29, natural gas consumption surpassed the previous daily record of 1.57 petajoules (PJ) which was set in February 2021.

“A new daily record of 1.62 PJ was set on December 28 and broken again on December 29 with total system delivery of 1.64 PJ. Delivery numbers for December 30 and 31 are not yet finalized, but are also expected to exceed 1.6 PJ.”

The natural gas records coincided with record power consumption. On Dec. 29, SaskPower set another record in power consumption for Saskatchewan. At 5:27 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2021, Saskatchewan homes and businesses reached 3,868 megawatts (MW) in power use, according to the Crown corporation. The previous record of 3,792 MW was reached four years ago to the day, on Dec. 29, 2017.

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Saskatchewan’s power production has increasingly shifted from coal to natural gas as a fuel source. In December, Boundary Dam Unit 4, a coal-fired generating unit, was retired, reducing the Boundary Dam Power Station to 672 megawatts capacity. On the natural gas side, Saskatchewan has seen the construction of several new natural gas-fired power plants. They include the baseload North Battleford Power Station (289 megawatts), Yellowhead Power Station peaking plant (also at North Battleford, 135 megawatts), the baseload Chinook Power Station at Swift Current (353 megawatts) and peaking plant Spy Hill Power Station (89 megawatts). Another 353 megawatt baseload plant, very similar to Chinook, is under construction at Moose Jaw.

All of this added natural gas-fired power generation has, in turn, driven higher usage of natural gas during times of high electrical consumption.

 

The Crown noted that increased demand from SaskEnergy’s industrial customers, including natural gas use for power production, was the main driver of this week’s record-setting consumption.

SaskEnergy said it measures daily natural gas consumption for the 24-hour period from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. A PJ is a unit of measurement equivalent to one million gigajoules (GJ) of natural gas. An average Saskatchewan home consumes about 100 GJ of natural gas each year.

“SaskEnergy’s natural gas system design can accommodate additional capacity to manage increased consumption even on peak days,” SaskEnergy president and CEO Ken From said in a release. “Throughout the year, SaskEnergy employees inspect, maintain and enhance the system to support safe and reliable natural gas delivery in all weather conditions. In addition, employees monitor the system 24 hours a day to ensure sufficient system capacity to meet customer demand across the province.”

This province is now largely dependent on neighbouring Alberta to fulfill roughly two-thirds of our natural gas needs.

Source: SaskEnergy 2020-21 annual report

When natural gas prices took a tumble roughly 14 years ago, Saskatchewan’s domestic gas production fell off a cliff. Targeted gas drilling went essentially extinct, with next to no gas-specific wells being drilled in this province for most of the past decade. Our domestic gas production is now largely based on associated gas production that comes with oil production. As a result, Saskatchewan went from being a net gas exporter for the period of 1988 to 2009 to a net importer that year.

 

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