Will Shand Power Station be converted to natural gas fuel? Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – Is SaskPower lining up natural gas supply with the intent of possibly switching Shand and/or Boundary Dam Power Stations from coal to natural gas?

No, according to president and CEO Rupen Pandya, when questioned before the provincial Crown and Central Agencies Committee on May 3. But they are looking at the possibility of conversion of coal to natural gas, something Alberta has done, converting much of its coal power generation to natural gas.

It’s a question that’s been floating around Estevan for several months. That’s because if coal-fired power stations are converted to natural gas, it means power supply can continue, and greenhouse gas emissions will drop substantial (along with carbon tax payments). But it would also mean an end to coal mining and processing jobs. You don’t need someone to crush coal in a power plant if it’s running on natural gas, for instance.

But first, some background:

Southeast Saskatchewan does not have a lot of natural gas production, and since 2009, Saskatchewan has been a net importer of gas. Indeed, there are nine gas plant facilities in operation in the whole region. In comparison, North Dakota’s Bakken and Three Forks oilfields are much gassier, so much so that the flaring of gas can be seen at night from space. And prior to the pandemic, North Dakota was building an average of six gas plants per year, just to keep up.

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Steel Reef Infrastructure, which runs all the gas plants in southeast Saskatchewan, already has an 8-inch line crossing the border, connecting to their North Dakota gas infrastructure. And they currently have an application before the Canadian Energy Regulator to add a second 8 inch line.

Steel Reef applied on April 4, 2022, to add a lateral pipeline 8 inch gas import line connecting to its North Portal gas plant to its Lignite, North Dakota, gas plant. The application reads:

“Steel Reef proposes to bring Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) from the Lignite Gas Plant, located in North Dakota, to be fractionated at the Steel Reef North Portal Gas Plant, located in Southern Saskatchewan. This will be accomplished via a new lateral pipeline that terminates at Steel Reef’s North Portal Gas Plant.”

Steel Reef’s Saskatchewan gas plants are all tied into the TransGas network. All gas transmission lines in Saskatchewan are, by law, run by SaskEnergy, through its subsidiary TransGas. And most gas pipelines that crosses a border have an extremely short section which is actually owned and operated by another wholly-owned SaskEnergy subsidiary, Many Islands Pipe Lines (Canada) Limited (MIPL).

One of those pipelines connects the Steel Reef Steelman plant to North Dakota. This is distinct of the pipeline connecting to the North Portal gas plant.

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On November 3, 2022, MIPL applied to the Canadian Energy Regulator to allow the existing 8 inch diameter, 1.15 kilometer long pipeline connecting the Steel Reef North Portal gas plant to North Dakota to become bi-directional in operation, allowing both exports and imports.

The application notes among the purposes of the pipeline is: “Providing security of supply to the City of Estevan, and the Saskatchewan Power Corporation’s Estevan, Boundary Dam and Shand Electrical Generation Stations.”

That bi-directional flow application was approved Feb. 6, 2023.

NDP SaskPower Critic Aleana Young. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

NDP critic questions SaskPower

NDP SaskPower critic Aleana Young asked Crown Investments Minister Don Morgan and SaskPower’s CEO about this. She pointed out that letters had been set to the RM of Coalfields, the purpose of the project was cited, noting supplying Boundary Dan and Shand Power Stations.

Young said of the committee’s December hearing, “At that point, I believe the indication in committee was that there was not an awareness of this application to the NEB. And I note for the record that I did follow up and send this application to SaskPower, I believe, on January 5th and asked for clarification on SaskPower’s intentions as it relates to natural gas expansion as well as its current coal generating facilities. And I did put that in a letter as well to SaskPower, which may have been lost in … The response may be lost in the mail.

“But since I have you folks here today, is SaskPower in discussion with MIP (Many Islands Pipe Lines), a federally regulated and wholly owned subsidiary of SaskEnergy, as it relates to the purchase or distribution of natural gas?”

SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

Pandya replied, “And so the answer to your question is no, we are not in discussion. So Many Islands Pipe Lines is a subsidiary of SaskEnergy, but we don’t work with Many Islands Pipe Lines. We work directly with SaskEnergy.

“And just in terms of the question that you had asked previously, I’d just note that we became aware of that discussion, I think, in December when you raised it in committee previously. And I can tell you that we’ve confirmed that that was simply SaskEnergy and its subsidiary, Many Islands Pipe Lines, doing reinforcement work with respect to supply related to existing natural gas pipelines. It had nothing to do with SaskPower.”

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Young replied, “Great. So I guess my next question was going to be, does this indicate that SaskPower is moving to retrofit its coal generating stations to use natural gas in lieu of coal?

Pandya said, “We continue to examine all options with respect to our coal assets in southern Saskatchewan, and so we’re continuing to look at that. And I think the minister’s earlier laid out, you know, we’re looking at natural gas, we’re looking at hydrogen, we’re looking at SMRs, and we’re certainly looking at coal-to-gas conversions, again to allow us to deliver on our mission which is reliable, sustainable, cost-effective power.”

Young said, “Thank you, sir. So to be clear, a decision has not been made in regards to retrofitting Saskatchewan’s existing coal fleet with natural gas.”

Crown Investments Corporation Minister Don Morgan. Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

Morgan replied, “Not at this point in time. It is an option, but there has not been a decision made.

Young referred to a speech made by Premier Scott Moe the day before toe the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. She said, “Is there a decision imminent? Again yesterday I’d note the Premier gave an expansive speech publicly, as well as significant comments to the media, in which he indicated that announcements in regards to SaskPower’s coal fleet, as well as continued expansion of natural gas, would be coming in a few weeks, I believe, was the timeline he provided.

Morgan said, “It would be really inappropriate for me to pre-announce whatever he might be choosing to announce later on, so I will respect that confidence.”

 

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