SaskPower held an open house on March 23-24 in Estevan. about 50 people attended the first day, and 15 the second.

ESTEVAN – SaskPower held an open house in Estevan the evening of March 23 and morning of March 24. Several SaskPower personnel were on hand to answer questions and discuss the issues on display, but those were not all the issues at hand.

Approximately 50 people showed up on the Thursday evening, and a further 15 on Friday morning. Those in attendance included union workers and their representatives, both coal miners and SaskPower workers. There were several elected municipal officials and concerned business people, as well as the general public. There weren’t a lot of smiling faces among them. Most were grim.

There were displays to talk about small modular reactors, including timelines, possible siting, and cultural considerations. That was the right side of the room. As you entered, the left side had a panel on “Future Supply Plan, 2030 and Beyond.” It mentioned federal regulations, carbon taxes, customer expectations, nuclear small modular reactors, innovation and electrification of vehicles.

The 100 megawatt Estevan solar facility project was on the left side.

The Southwest Power Pool Project, which will involve a bi-directional 650 megawatt transmission interconnect with North Dakota, southwest of Estevan, was the rear corner.

One of the banners said, “Reliable power for today and future generations.”

Nowhere was there a banner for coal, or coal with carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), 8.5 years after the opening of the Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Project.

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Where’s carbon capture?

Asked about the notable absence of CCUS, SaskPower spokesperson Scott McGregor said, “I don’t actually have that answer for you. I know that we have there are different projects and initiatives that we have going on that we are here to talk about.”

He continued, “There are other things that we’re doing, in the future, that we don’t have stations on. Like, there’s battery energy storage, there’s compressed air storage. We’re doing looks into hydrogen generation as well. There’s lots of things that aren’t covered here. This isn’t a comprehensive picture of what the future looks like. These are just the big ones that like for solar. For example, we have 100 megawatts going in the Estevan area in the coming years, we have up to 3,000 megawatts coming (of wind and solar).”

Estevan area SaskPower Projects, Notable in its absence is the lack of additional carbon capture on coal.

 

Asked “Are we doing carbon capture on Shand?” he replied, “I don’t have the information.”

When asked are they discussing it? Is being studied still? Has there been any work on that since 2018? McGregor deferred to another SaskPower spokesperson who wasn’t present at the event.

 

Interconnect with Southwest Power Pool

The 650 megawatt interconnect is scheduled to be in place by 2027. It is slightly larger in capacity than Boundary Dam Power Station (without Unit 4, the unit that was supposed to retire in December, 2021, but has seen on-again, off-again use since then).

That power line will pull power from or sell power to a large pool of power producers that runs from the 49th parallel to the Texas Panhandle. You can monitor the generation mix of all the power on that pool at SPP.org. From frequent monitoring by Pipeline Online, there are substantial shifts in what sources the power is coming from. At midnight on March 30, 65 per cent was wind, 15 per cent coal, 10 per cent natural gas. On other days, like Jan. 20, 2023, coal made up 45 per cent, natural gas 28 per cent, and wind 19 per cent. On days like that, the coal- and natural gas-fired power (73 per cent combined) would both be subject to Canadian carbon taxes if produced on this side of the border. But by buying the electrons through a transmission line, SaskPower will forego any carbon tax on any imported power.

Existing 150 megawatt interconnect, just north of the US border.

On Dec. 20, Troy King, SaskPower vice-president, finance and business performance and CFO, told the Crown and Central Agencies Committee of the Legislature, “So the amount of the carbon tax changes each year as the price increases so now this next calendar year, it’s going to go from 50 to $65. We also see there’s allowable thresholds for emissions that are set. And those emissions standards continue to decline, so it means more of the carbon that we emit becomes subject to tax.

“And I’ll just go over the last four years here. So starting in 2019, it was $56 million in carbon tax; 2020, it was 85; 2021 was 163; and for this coming calendar year we’re estimating it’s going to be about $182 million. For the coming calendar year, we’re looking at about $240 million is what we believe the carbon (tax will be.)”

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At the open house, Lee Williams, the SaskPower representative who is working on land and was at the Southwest Power Pool display, said, “There’s going to be new lines coming in from the United States to provide power from the Southwest Power Pool.”

There will be two lines coming into Saskatchewan, but the routing hasn’t been determined. It’s coming just a few kilometres from the border, to a new switching station that will be built on a section of land roughly 13 kilometres southwest of Boundary Dam Power Station. It will be right beside the proposed 100 megawatt solar farm which will cover seven-quarter of private land. As it currently stands, that solar farm will be built on new, existing farmland, that is immediately north of 18 quarters of land SaskPower already owns and is designated for coal mining.

Williams said, “I think they’re not going to be double circuit on one structure, they’re going to be separate lines. Separation, I couldn’t tell you what it is.

“I don’t believe it’s going to be 20 miles, but it’s they’re not going to be side by each. There’ll be some separation as you would want for weather related incidents.”

Similar geographical separation considerations led Manitoba Hydro to spend $2 billion on its Bipole III project a few years ago.

Asked what was the expected ratio of power direction, of imports and exports on this bidirectional line, would it be 50/50 or 90/10, or 95/5, and how much volume of megawatts would be involved, both Williams and McGregor said they didn’t have the information.

McGregor noted they didn’t have any of the engineers on the project who would have that knowledge present at the open house.

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McGregor said, “A lot of that will come down to energy demands. In Saskatchewan, we’re in a surplus position, which we are, I would say most days, and, really wouldn’t be outside the question that we would potentially being exported. That said, if there’s a need to bring stuff in, that’s, that’s one of the nice things about those types of interconnections, that it goes both ways depending on whatever, any jurisdiction that needs it.”

Indeed, if you follow both SaskPower’s “Where Your Power Comes From” web page and the Alberta Electric System Operator grid page, SaskPower is nearly always exporting approximately 150 megawatts of power to Alberta on any given day. At the time of writing on March 29, it was 149 megawatts.

Power generation in Saskatchewan, as a daily average on Saturday, March 25, 2023. SaskPower

SaskPower’s page also noted that on March 25, the day after the open house, Saskatchewan’s 617 megawatts of installed wind power produced only an average of 22 megawatts throughout the day (3.6 per cent of nameplate capacity). As that was an average, it means that there were times it fell below 22 megawatts.

A similar situation occurred on March 27, when wind averaged 36 megawatts throughout the day (5.8 per cent of nameplate capacity.) On two days in January, wind power production actually went negative for the entire day, as the collective wind fleet drew more power to keep their systems warm than they generated.

Wind turbines near Assiniboia. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Backup?

Asked how much natural gas power generation was going to be built to back up the planned additional 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar for days the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, McGregor said, “In terms of increasing or baseload capacity? That’s something that we’re always working on. I don’t have the numbers on that.”

Asked about peaking power to backfill, not baseload, he said, “That’s where the base load, like comes into backup and support the renewable resources.”

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“By 2035, we plan to have built up to 3,000 megawatts of wind and solar. In terms of the baseload, increase in generative capacity as well. That’s not a number that I have right now. Because that is something that has always been worked on and developed. It’s a much more significant thing to build a baseload generating station,” McGregor said.

SaskPower has long had a 150 megawatt interconnect with North Dakota. It will soon build a 650 megawatt interconnect, about the capacity of Boundary Dam Power Station. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

The billion dollar interconnect

That interconnect was discussed by the Crown and Central Agencies Committee of the Legislature on Dec. 20, 2022. In that discussion, NDP SaskPower Critic Aleana Young asked about the interconnect’s cost. The full exchange between Young and Crown Investments Minster Don Morgan can be read in this related story.

In response to Young’s questions, Morgan confirmed that a billion dollars was being spent to build the infrastructure in the United States, $52 million a year for 20 years.

Young asked, “The billion dollars is just to build infrastructure in the States?”

Morgan replied, “That’s correct. Because the power price changes hour by hour, day by day, that’s to maintain the infrastructure. Southwest Power Pool is a group of producers in the US [United States] that is about 10 times what we would have access to here. So we would likely be guaranteed a relatively competitive supply of electricity from that at whatever current rates might be going forward.”

Ken Mehler, left, asks questions of SaskPower. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

Hard questions from public

Back at the Estevan open house, one man speaking to Williams and McGregor about coal power said, “Let’s get Scott Moe here. Let’s get your CEO fighting for us, right? Let’s get some people fighting for us. Let’s not just say, ‘Okay, let’s do it. Let’s close it down.’”

Lauren Packer, who owns a business in North Portal and lives on a farm just north of the Shand Power Station, said, “SaskPower, you’re doing all this for the people and making everything better for the people. Why aren’t you are literally fighting for the people right now? The amount of jobs that are getting lost in the community, everything! Not even considering what happens in nuclear and things like that, right? We’ll just be wiped right out. Why don’t you fight for what we have, and what works?

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Another man said, “We’ll lose our jobs. Plus we’ll pay more for our power bills, because we have to pay for all this gas transition, then nuclear reactors over 10, 15, 20 years. Power bills are all going to go up, right? Because we have to pay for this transition, instead of keeping coal. We need people fighting.”

As for the prospects of buying power from the SPP that will still be using coal, but with no carbon tax, Packer, said, “We’ll still be getting coal, but now we’ll have lost all those jobs, right?”

The SaskPower people weren’t saying much as this point. Asked about that, McGregor said, “We are bound by regulations that everyone’s bound by.”

Packer asked him, “Why don’t you fight for us? Because it’s wrong.”

On the left, coal miners talk amongst themselves.

“So whoever your higher power is, or whoever the big guy is, why aren’t you guys fighting for what is right now? Instead of trying to come here and sell us on this, all this stuff? Right? They put you all in, I;m sorry, a very bad position. I’m sure you guys don’t even want to be here, right? This is a mining community you’re having to answer to. I’m sure there’s a lot of heated people, right? And I’m sorry, I’m sorry. They put you in that position,” Packer concluded.

Rhonda Blanchette, a local Realtor, told Pipeline Online, “I think people are angry with SaskPower. And they’re doing their jobs. But at what point? Where does it where’s the trickle down? It’s the politicians’ fault. They’re not taking responsibility. Nobody can listen to what the people want. And I mean, the politicians are supposed to listen to what their people want.

“It just doesn’t make sense. It’s a big money grab a, a big cost. They’re switching from coal to gas temporarily. And theoretically, to modular reactors. I don’t know at the very least, why we can’t just keep the cool going until we have the modular reactors, if that’s feasible,” Blanchette said.

RM of Estevan councillor Steve Smith

RM councillor concerned about solar

Steve Smith, a councillor for the Rural Municipality of Estevan who attended the open house, said he’s been talking extensively with the reeve of Vulcan County in Alberta, which is home of the Travers Solar Project, the largest in Canada at 465 megawatts. That facility, alone, makes up one third of Alberta’s solar capacity despite the province having 30 solar facilities in total. It went fully online last fall.

(You can see minute-by-minute records of Travers’ output on Dispatcho.app. On March 29 it maxed out its output at 465 megawatts from 9 a.m. until 5:12 p.m., but on Dec. 21, it only put out 156 megawatts at maximum. And when clouds fly over in the middle of the day, its output will sharply drop as much as 305 megawatts in as little as 18 minutes, as it did on March 27.)

This was the output from the Travers Solar Facility, Alberta’s largest, at 465 megawatts capacity. It peaked at 155 megawatts on the shortest day of the year. Dispatcho.appSmith pointed out that Travers is “sitting on 3,300 acres of land roughly about 1.4 million solar panels sitting on about 1.8 million screw piles. And some of the issues they’re having. they can’t get no answers on who’s going to clean up the project if it goes broke? Is it going to be the landowner? Is it going to be the RM? Can’t get any feedback on it yet. They’ve had weed issues. They’ve had contractors come in at the start, 10 years ago, that were great to work with. And now they’re seeing contractors that are abusing them, abusing the public. They have mandates to meet.

“So I think that’s part of the reason they’re getting steamrolled. There’s a lot more pushback, as of late, in Alberta. They’re 10 years down the rabbit hole. We’re just virgins, here in Saskatchewan. I think we got a lot to learn from Alberta people and what they’ve been through. He is the south division, RMA leader over there. Alberta sits on about 79 counties, and that their convention last week, he talked to 20 different counties the first day, and they all are pushing back. They’re all fed up with it. They all have concerns. It’s not as rosy as what it was 10 years ago.

“So, I think we as our province, and especially as an RM, we need to protect our ratepayers for the future. I think we need to be asking for soil analysis prior to construction. We need to be educating the landowners that if they rent their land, they need to ask for the weed program, because we will hold the landowner responsible for the weeds, not the company, if it’s leased land. So we have to educate our ratepayers and our landowners get them past the dollar signs,” Smith said.

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“He told me they stripped the 3,300 acres of land to control the weeds. Their weed is kochia weed. That came like crazy. So, then they tried to put the topsoil back, they tried to seed grass, he says, ‘We’re hot and dry grass didn’t grow.’ Probably about the third year, I think, he said third or fourth year they went in and under-seeded barley. He says it’s just starting to grow. And it’s just barely enough for a certain amount of sheep to go in there and start grazing. So five, five to seven years before they learned to figure out the weed problem.”

This map superimposes the planned solar facility on a Google Maps time warp showing the greatest extent of disturbed mine lands west of Boundary Dam Reservoir. Yellow indicates SaskPower land reserved for coal. There are 18 quarters of land, already owned by SaskPower, south of the proposed solar site. The planned interconnect switching station, taking a whole section of land, would be to the west of the solar facility. Map by Brian Zinchuk

Smith is concerned who would be responsible for removing piles at the end of the Estevan project. He also thinks SaskPower has had ample time to prepare reclaimed coal mine land for use for solar panel installation. And he questions why SaskPower didn’t choose to put the solar facility on the 18 quarters of land it already owns, immediately adjacent to the chosen site. “That’s my question. If you believe in solar and wind and mining’s ending, why don’t you put it in on there” he asked, pointing out concerns about liability to clean it up.

“An RM, I mean, I don’t want to hold anybody back from making money. I don’t want to see landowners not rent the land, but I want to do is make the landowners ask the right questions,” Smith said.

He’s also concerned about the possible siting of two small modular reactors on Rafferty Reservoir, as the RM has economic development plans.

Small modular reactors

While the highest number of panels were about small modular reactors, there wasn’t a lot new compared to the open house in November.

In broad strokes, SaskPower is looking at building two General Electric-Hitachi BWRX-300 small modular nuclear reactors. The name stands for boiling water reactor, tenth (x) generation, 300 megawatts electrical output. Each would roughly be the size of Shand Power Station in capacity, or together, the size of Boundary Dam Power Station. The physical footprint of each facility would fit with the turf of Mosaic Stadium.

SaskPower is considering building a total of four reactors in sequence, but right now is concentrating on the first two. It will revisit site selection for the latter two at a later date.

The Estevan area and Elbow area are both in the running for the first two reactors.

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Others buying same reactor model

Ontario Power Generation is building the very first model of this reactor, at Darlington Ontario, and it is anticipated to be in operation before the end of the decade. The Tennessee Valley Authority is working on the second, at Oak Ridge, Tennessee (home of a large portion of the Manhattan Project.) The design is also being deployed in Sweden, considered in Estonia, and may see substantial deployment in Poland. Originally Poland had been looking at 10 units, but World Nuclear News has reported on Feb. 14 that “Polish company PKN Orlen recently said it was preparing to announce locations for up to 79 GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 SMRs.”

Timelines

SaskPower is currently in the site evaluation phase, with a site expected to be selected at the end of 2023. Construction licence application and submission is expected to take from mid-2024 until the end of 2027, followed by a regulatory review. The operating license application and submission followed by regulatory review in 2029. The final go/no-go decision by Saskatchewan is expected at the end of 2029, with site prep expected to take all of 2030, and construction and commissioning expected to take 42 months, starting in 2031. Operations are expected to begin in 2035.

Those circled areas near the water are the most likely locations for a water intake for the planned reactors, if built in southeast Saskatchewan.

Narrowing site location

The most recent information was an update to the map, showing possible water intake locations for the proposed nuclear facility. It showed threes small areas, for possible intake sites.

One was on the northeast side of Boundary Dam Reservoir where the original Estevan airport used to be. That location is unlikely, as the entire area circled was mined in the late 1990s to early 2000s.

The second area is a small area on the south side of Rafferty reservoir, due south of Macoun. The largest area runs along the north shore of Rafferty, from the dam to southwest of Macoun.

“We need a half section of land,” said Sarah Klein-Bentley, the engineer who is the siting lead. “That’s half section that accommodates the two units plus all the ancillary ways around that.”

She said the intake would be at the bottom of the reservoir. She noted there are three major areas of criteria for choosing a site. “There’s a whole list in regards to environmental safety, technical, and social cultural criteria. And they helped inform these siting areas. And there’s a whole list of technical criteria that have influenced these water intake areas. And the next stage will be to kind of dive deeper into down into those.”

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She added, “Within those intake locations, that geology review of the of the area is underway right now.”

There are two type of cooling being considered – one where the water flows back into the reservoir, similar to how Boundary Dam operates, or cooling towers, like the one at Shand or Boundary Dam’s Carbon Capture unit.

Do fish have a vote?

Bass fish, a warm-water species, were transplanted into Boundary Dam reservoir decades ago, and are a popular attraction. If Boundary Dam Power Station shuts down and is not replaced in an immediate fashion with nuclear on the same reservoir, those fish will likely die from the cold. Asked if the non-native fish are a consideration, Klein-Bentley said, “Oh, yeah. There’s lots of studies being that are underway in regards to the bass.”

“There are a lot of studies underway, not even regards to this project, (but in) regards to monitoring those species. And what would happen if coal away? Would they be able to survive? You know, what would happen like that?”

Similar studies are being done to see what the impact would be adding all that heat to Boundary, Rafferty or Lake Diefenbaker.

However, they aren’t currently looking at the impacts of four units ending up at the same site, she said, but rather just the first two.

Collaboration on SMRs

Given Saskatchewan has never built or run a grid-scale nuclear reactor before, how much close collaboration does SaskPower have with other nuclear operators? McGregor replied, “One of the really important parts about our SMR file is that we are collaborating with experienced nuclear operators. So you know, Bruce Power, New Brunswick Power, OPG, TVA. At what level? I’m not part of those conversations, but like, what conversations like what  did you guys think for this land criteria?

“So, I’m sure those conversations are happening, if they haven’t started, they will likely start soon. But there’s a lot of insight that we’ve gained from working with OPG and New Brunswick Power on what it is to be a nuclear operator in Canada, what it is to navigate the regulatory process in Canada and have gained a lot of insight, really, at the front end here about what the scope even looks like. And we’re going to continue to work with these operators as our whole project proceeds. We’re not going in alone by any stretch.”

 

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