Brad Wall and the elusive goal of carbon capture and storage

At the UN climate conference in Paris, Premier Brad Wall and SaskPower executives are showcasing their carbon capture and storage project, located at a coal power plant in Saskatchewan.

Technology doesn't eliminate greenhouse gases, but buries them deep underground

Premier Brad Wall is hopeful SaskPower can export its carbon capture and storage technology to help other countries address climate change. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The hot and cold relationship political leaders have with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is seemingly never ending.

The idea is attractive. Carbon capture traps and buries carbon dioxide from coal and other power plants, so it cannot warm the climate. However, the execution turns out to be tricky.

In the U.K. last month, the government abruptly cancelled a £1-billion ($2 billion) plan to develop its own carbon capture project. The two private companies in the running both abandoned their plans to construct facilities once they knew there wouldn't be any public funding.

Just one month earlier, the U.K. government's own advisers had praised the technology, commenting it would be "very important for reducing emissions across the economy."

It's another curious, yet not uncommon case in the short history of carbon capture. One moment leaders spout about the wonderful fledging technology, the next moment they're pulling the plug. 

SaskPower is engaged with interests around the world who are taking a look at it.– Brad Wall, Saskatchewan premier

Alberta has gone through a somewhat similar experience. Under former premier Ed Stelmach, the provincial government promised billions of dollars to construct carbon capture facilities in 2008. The ambitious goal was to reduce projected emissions by 200 megatonnes by 2050, 70 per cent of which would be achieved through carbon capture. 

Four private sector projects were proposed. In 2012, the first company dropped out, followed by a second the following year. The remaining two projects have gone ahead. Shell's Quest project opened recently and Enhance Energy's trunk line is expected to open in 2017.

Alberta's attitude toward carbon capture has changed significantly since its original enthusiasm. Before Jim Prentice became premier, he described carbon capture as not the "panacea," adding "it's not capable of achieving the reductions in emissions that are required, and it is expensive, and in certain contexts, it's quite unproven." 

Alison Redford on carbon capture and storage

7 years ago
Duration 0:59
Alison Redford's take on carbon capture and storage

The current NDP government says no further funding is planned for carbon capture and storage.

Saskatchewan's eagerness

The attitude in neighbouring Saskatchewan is completely different. 

At the UN climate conference in Paris, premier Brad Wall and SaskPower executives are showcasing their project, located at a coal power plant in the province. The facility missed its target in the first year, but Wall is not deterred. He points out the plant has sequestered carbon equivalent to taking 100,000 cars off the road, a figure that should grow to 250,000 when the plant is fully operational. 

Wall sees carbon capture as a weapon against the high emissions from coal in Saskatchewan and around the world.

"We have fielded interest specifically from China," he said in an interview with CBC News. "SaskPower is engaged with interests around the world who are taking a look at it." 

It's definitely not the silver bullet.–Amin Asadollahi, Pembina Institute

This fall, SaskPower signed a deal with BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, to share information and research.

"I think you'll see another announcement with them here in the weeks and months ahead as they continue their interest in the project," said Wall.

B.C. recently decided to change legislation to open the door to carbon capture projects.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have both supported the technology. 

High costs

Still, the carbon capture technology hasn't blossomed into the mainstream. The capital costs are high and the operating formula can be challenging. A milestone for the industry will be the point when facilities are constructed and operated without any government subsidies.

"They were certainly expensive when they were introduced in Alberta, and the other issue is whether or not they are economically feasible," said former Alberta premier Alison Redford in an interview at the Paris climate change conference. Redford now leads the Canadian Transition Energy Initiative with the Conference Board of Canada.

"A couple of the companies decided it was not economically feasible," she said.

Pembina Institute on CCS

7 years ago
Duration 0:59
Amin Asadollahi discusses whether CCS can help fight climate change

Generally, environmentalists prefer moving away from fossil fuels and boosting incentives for renewable energy.

"CCS is one tool in the toolbox. It's definitely not the silver bullet," said Amin Asadollahi, with the Pembina Institute. "We need to de-carbonize our economies in order to remain competitive in a world that is becoming increasingly carbon constrained." 

As world leaders search for the answer to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Wall suggests that carbon capture can help countries such as India and China, which rely heavily on coal power plants.

"The world's problem needs to be solved by doing something about coal," said Wall. "We have technology that might provide some answers."


Kyle Bakx

Business reporter

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with the network business unit at CBC News. He files stories from across the country and internationally for web, radio, TV and social media platforms. You can email story ideas to


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