Premier Scott Moe on May 16, 2021, discussing nuclear power in Saskatchewan. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

REGINA – Saskatchewan will run its coal and natural gas power plants until their expected end of life, and not shut them down due to the proposed federal Clean Electricity Standard which says they must be retired by 2035. That’s according to Premier Scott Moe, on May 16. But as these plants eventually go offline, and with the clear acknowledgement that wind and solar cannot provide baseload power, to what power generation will Saskatchewan turn?

The answer, spread throughout the press conference, was nuclear.

It’s not going come quickly, however. SaskPower president and CEO Rupen Pandya said, “Logistically, even if the necessary non emitting baseload technologies did exist, and were commercially proven, it’s not feasible for us to acquire the capital material and labor needed to transition over 150 per cent 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.”

Artist rendition of a GE-Hitachi BWRX-300 reactor that SaskPower has chosen, should it build nuclear power plants. GE-Hitachi

He added, “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.”

Moe said, “So at this point in time, 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.”

He added, “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.”

Pandya added, “We don’t have carbon capture on natural gas, yet. It won’t be proven until 2027, (at the) earliest in Alberta, and certainly we can’t deploy nuclear until 2034, our first nuclear. And if we go the route, it will be 300 megawatts.

“So it’s practically not possible for us to do it. But if it were, if you could build multiple reactors, if you could build carbon capture, and it would work at the capture rates that the federal government is outlined in the discussion paper on the (Clean Electricity Regulations), that would generate costs in the neighborhood of about $45 billion. And when you take that cost and dispersed across the rate base, it’s 107 per cent.”

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Commitment?

Pipeline Online asked Moe if he would commit, now, to nuclear. Here’s the exchange:

Pipeline Online: You alluded to nuclear, and SaskPower’s current timeline says a final decision will be made in 2029. Are you committing, now, that we are going nuclear, one way or another?

Premier Scott Moe: I don’t think we’ve committed today, going one way or the other? Almost certainly it’s about … I’m not aware of another option that can provide us that 80 per cent baseload power, over time, that you had 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. But I’m not aware of another technology that we have access to, in Saskatchewan, that ultimately could provide that 80 per cent baseload power to ensure affordable power, to ensure that our homes in northern Saskatchewan are still heated with electrical heat, and they can afford the power bills that are coming at the end of the month.

Affordable power to ensure that the industries, the potash mining industry, the uranium mining industry, the forestry industry, the coming rare earth industry, our agriculture industry can ultimately afford the electricity that they require to continue to conduct business here and, ultimately, continue to employ people in community after community.

 

And so, at this point, and I don’t know, Rupen or Don, if you have another comment on other sources, but you know, … the hydro resources that we have are being utilized. We have the fossil fuels that we’re utilizing today. Nuclear most certainly is one of the very strong considerations as we move ahead. And I’m not aware of another power source that we couldn’t be looking at, unless you found one, Don?

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Crown Investments Corporation and SaskPower Minister Don Morgan: In my 1000 questions, I haven’t found them.

But in any event, we have asked SaskPower to look at every possible combination or every possibility that’s coming up. We’ve asked them to look at hydro. While hydro, we may be able to improve the efficiency, we’re talking in, you know, single percentage points. But nuclear has worked well, effectively, safely, reliably and affordably in in other provinces for 60 years. So, it’s certainly an option that can and should be considered. It’s expensive to add to our current mix. But the timelines that are outlined in the regulatory process, there’s been no willingness on the part of the federal government to bridge or change those, so the timeline to make that decision is 2029. And what I would ask people to do is wait and see what that happens. If they have comments you want to make on it, we’d welcome them.

Scott Moe: In the meantime, I think what we’re saying as well is we’re willing to work with the federal government, and we’re going to, we’re going to have to utilize fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

On a second note, on the nuclear conversation, is all Canadian uranium comes from this province; comes from the northern areas of this province employing between 45 and 50 per cent northern and indigenous folks. You know, some of the most sustainable fuel that you can find to create electricity, and most certainly some of the most ethically produced fuel that you can find.

And I’ve talked to a number of folks this week, as we have discussions on some of the challenges that we have with forest fires in the northern parts of our province, as to you know, how we worked through that immediate challenge, but the importance of supporting the uranium industry in Saskatchewan moving forward, not only to our benefit, but I would say to the benefit of all of our allies and trading partners around the world.

 

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Asking Moe: What if the feds order power plants be shut down, and the Supreme Court backs them?

Saskatchewan running coal power later than 2030 would be illegal: Guilbeault

Saskatchewan will not meet Net Zero by 2035, but will aim for 2050

Saskatchewan can’t meet Net Zero by 2035, so we won’t: full press conference video