SES report sees carbon neutral grid by 2040 possible for SaskPower


In 2013, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) produced a report, Yes They Can: A 2020 Vision for SaskPower. According to Vice-President of the SES Bob Halliday, the report was a picture of where SaskPower could be and as 2020 was coming to an end they thought they should look back on the 2013 report.

“The reason we released the current report today is just that there is so much publicity last week on President Joe Biden saying the US is going to have carbon free power by 2035. We had this report just about ready to go saying that SaskPower should have carbon free power by 2040 so we felt that the timing was good to get it out,” Halliday said.

In a release the SES said that there is a clear path forward to be carbon neutral by 2040.

The new report examines and updates the analysis and recommendations from the 2013 report and considers how close SaskPower has come to meeting those recommendations.

“It’s basically a snapshot of what SaskPower has done since 2013 and where we think they should be going now,” he explained.

The 2013 report provided basic information concerning greenhouse gas emissions in Saskatchewan and the SaskPower electricity generation system.

The 2013 report also discussed vulnerabilities and opportunities associated with the SaskPower system and presented 18 recommendations covering the short-term (2020), medium-term (2030) and long-term (2050). The new report examines and updates the analysis and recommendations from the 2013 report and considers how close SaskPower has come to meeting those recommendations.

In the last several years, SaskPower has made very little progress on reducing GHG emissions. In its 2013 report, SES offered proposals as to how carbon emissions could be significantly reduced, but the slow pace of SaskPower’s transition to decarbonizing its power generation leaves the 2030 goals of reducing GHG emissions to 40 percent below 2005 levels and to having one-half of its generating capacity based on renewables by 2030, a challenge.

However Halliday notes that there was some progress made including the first retrofit of carbon capture and storage at Boundary Dam.

“It cost a fortune but they did do it,” he said.

Halliday explained that there has also been significant wind power work done by the utility that has been coming online over the past few years.

“At the moment it looks like they haven’t gained anything on renewable power but they have quite a bit of wind power in the offing,” Halliday said.

Since 2012, SaskPower has also moved from a coal-fired power company to a natural gas-fired power company to a significant degree. In 2018-2019 SaskPower generated more power from natural gas than from coal.

“That also raises a concern for us as well because if the world is going carbon free. Investing a lot of money in gas powered power plants doesn’t make a huge amount of sense and economists talk about stranded assets. They could in fact build a bunch more gas fired power plants and then find that they have to shut them down before the end of their useful life and that’s a concern that SES has now,” Halliday said.

The new report offers several recommendations for SaskPower’s consideration. Firstly they should commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. To support this, its current 2030 goal should be enhanced to a goal of having one-half of its power generation from renewables by 2030. Being net zero by 2040 would be an ambitious target but should be viewed in the context of the planet needing to be net zero by 2050.

If a revised 2030 goal is to be met, SaskPower should pursue three options: Make a 1000 MW interconnection to Manitoba Hydro a high priority for completion by 2030, Continue to commission utility-scale wind farms up to the capability of the present grid. This would be in the order of 20 to 25 percent of capacity. They also called for SaskPower to take the necessary steps to enable commissioning of utility scale solar stations by 2030. The target should be 500 MW of solar capacity.

Halliday explained that one option is to continue cooperating with Manitoba Hydro after shutting down coal fired power plants as a least costly option.

“Manitoba Hydro is 100 per cent hydroelectricity which is renewable power. And there is a lot of benefits on both SaskPower and Manitoba Hydro are relatively small utilities so if you tied them together quite well there is a lot of mutual benefits in having the two companies trading power and if the wind is blowing in Saskatchewan it might not be blowing in Manitoba and when the wind isn’t blowing you can use that hydro and all of those kinds of things. There is a lot of synergies between the two companies potentially. So that is probably one of our key asks,” Halliday said.

Other options are solar power.

“The other thing is since 2013 SES didn’t anticipate that the cost of solar power would just be rocketing downward and Saskatchewan has the best solar resource in all of Canada and yet SaskPower hasn’t gone down that road to any great extent,” Halliday said.

“We certainly recommend that they get into the solar power business as quickly as possible to try and meet some of these targets that we think are doable and achievable.”

They also asked SaskPower to formally announce its intent to decommission the Poplar River Power Station by 2030 because it would remove uncertainty and allow appropriate transitional measures to be put in place at Coronach. They were also asked to enhance their commitment to demand-side management to 500 MW and continue to seek cogeneration opportunities in the order of 500 MW, continue to investigate the feasibility of geothermal power production in the province, continue to work on smart grid and related grid modernization technologies so that renewable power can be successfully integrated into its system, pursue pilot projects related to energy storage using compressed air and large batteries and any other options and should engage external expertise to develop a comprehensive plan for energy storage by 2023 and establish a pilot project by 2025.

According to Halliday, SaskPower has done some work since the 2013 report that shows their concerns are being heard.

“I like to think we have had some influence on them and maybe they would have done all of the wind power development anyway whether or not we had said they should. And the other thing is we talk about connections with Manitoba Hydro and they have another line to Manitoba Hydro under construction. I would like to think that some of the things we set out are clicking with them. But that said I think they find it very easy to build gas fired power plants and I think that could come back to bite them down the road,” he said.

“The other thing which we have advocated that they expend some effort on conserving electricity sand increasing energy efficiency. They have targets on that and we think they could easily double their target. Of course the more energy you save the less new power plants you have to build,” he added.