Saskatchewan Environmental Society wants end to coal power

Environmentalists have just released a 40-page submission to the crown-owned electrical utility, urging it to phase out all of three of its coal generating plants.

SES urges SaskPower to focus on hydro, wind, solar

The Boundary Dam power plant is the oldest and largest coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan. ((CBC))
The Saskatchewan Environmental Society is calling for SaskPower to phase out its coal-fired generating stations.

The Environmental Society released a 40-page submission this morning to the crown-owned electrical utility asking that

You don't build a major power plant on a whim.- Robert Halliday, author of Yes They Can: A 20-20 Vision for SaskPower

it permanently close all of its coal plants.

Titled "Yes They Can: A 20-20 Vision for SaskPower", the document says Saskatchewan's Shand, Poplar River and Boundary Dam plants are aging and are ready to be retired within the next 10 to 12 years. It asks SaskPower to commit to more environmentally-friendly energy sources, rather than attempting to retrofit or replace them.

Robert Halliday, a Saskatoon engineer and author of the report titled "Yes They Can: A 20-20 Vision for SaskPower." (Jordan Johnson/CBC)
"A lot of decisions have to be made within the next decade and within the next six to eight years even," said Robert Halliday, a Saskatoon engineer and author of the report."You don't build a major power plant on a whim. You have about twenty years of planning to go into that."

In September 2012, federal regulators relaxed emissions requirements, and promised SaskPower its older power plants would be allowed to stay open longer than expected. 

Coal currently powers half of Saskatchewan grid

Coal power has historically been considered a cheap and reliable source of electricity in Saskatchewan. The provincial government, Ottawa, and SaskPower have invested heavily in carbon capture and storage technology. To date, retrofitting one demonstration coal stack at Boundary Dam has cost $1.355 billion.

Halliday noted last year, roughly half the power generated in Saskatchewan came from coal-fired power plants. 

The real issue for SaskPower I think will turn out to be the cost of carbon capture and storage- Robert Halliday

"The real issue for SaskPower I think will turn out to be the cost of carbon capture and storage," Halliday told reporters in Saskatoon. "Because it is very expensive and it's predicated on being able to find a market for CO2. If they cannot find a market for C02, for the anticipated lifetime of the project then that does become very expensive power."

He said the money spent to date on carbon capture and storage could have tripled Saskatchewan's hydroelectricity capacity, and led to a five-fold increase in wind power.

"My understanding is that their cost overruns have not been on the carbon capture side, they've been on the re-fitting an old power plant side," said Halliday.

"When you start opening up an old power plant and finding asbestos and finding all sorts of nasties in there to deal with, and materials that need to be replaced, it might well be that they decide the cost of doing carbon capture and storage phase two might be just more financial risk than they're willing to take," he said.

Reducing consumption 'cheapest' fix

Representatives from the Environmental Society noted reducing electrical consumption would be the swiftest way to save money. Right now, 35 large industrial customers account for 45 per cent of the electricity used in Saskatchewan.

"The cheapest power we can produce is the power we save," said Halliday. "There are many, many ways of reducing power consumption in this province. And most of them remain untouched."

He said SaskPower could cut demand for electricity by 450 megawatts over the coming decade through an electricity efficiency program. He also said co-generation — the simultaneous production of heat and electricity — could be put in place at all of Saskatchewan’s potash mines." 

Encourages coal alternatives

Halliday's report also encourages Saskatchewan to partner with Manitoba Hydro, to purchase low-emitting hydroelectricity from its eastern neighbour.

It points to Iowa and South Dakota, wind power already fuels more than 20 per cent of the states' respective power grids. It's asking SaskPower to raise its wind generating target to 20 per cent.

"South of the TransCanada highway in southern Saskatchewan we have the best solar resource in Canada," said Halliday. 

SaskPower predicts the province's current demand for electricity will double by 2032.

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