Newly revealed SaskPower chart shows capture performance not improving

REGINA – Saskatchewan’s $1.5-billion carbon capture plant struggled to contain more than half its daily emissions in 2015, an internal SaskPower operations chart shows.

The graph also reports the Boundary Dam megaproject hasn’t captured emissions at nearly the same rate as late 2014, when the facility first opened.

The Opposition NDP have been attacking Premier Brad Wall and the Sask. Party government over misleading statements about the carbon capture and storage facility, which often suggested it was exceeding expectations.

“Almost everything said about this project can be contradicted by one chart.” – NDP leader Cam Broten

SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh admitted last week, “the best (volume) we’ve achieved in any given day has been 80 per cent.”

The chart, which is buried deeply on the SaskPower carbon capture and storage website and was pointed out to the NDP on Friday, shows that peak performance happened in November 2014.

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This internal SaskPower operations chart shows Boundary Dam’s rate of carbon capture from when it opened in October 2014 to the end of August 2015. Supplied

Since mid-Janaury, the best capture rate appears to be less than 65 per cent – and that’s only on the days the unit has been up and running. It’s been shut down due to mechanical issues more than half the time, SaskPower says.

This contradicts what Marsh told reporters on October 27, saying improvements had come over the course of the year.

“Every week and every month … performance is getting better and better,” Marsh said.

READ MORE: Wall defends silence on Boundary Dam shortcomings

Several internal memos leaked to the Opposition and made public in the last week reveal the project’s poor record, which has cost taxpayers millions in penalties and revenue shortfalls.

“Almost everything said about this project can be contradicted by this one chart,” NDP leader Cam Broten said Monday. “The only time they come out with some information is when there’s a document that contradicts the lines, the spin, the news releases they’ve been cranking out time and time again.”

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“We’ve got a big problem here with what they’ve been saying and what the reality actually is.”

Wall has defended the government’s lack of transparency about Boundary Dam’s performance, saying the plant is highly efficient at capturing CO2 when it’s in working order.

“They’re not about the technology, which is what we want to sell. They’re about other mechanical issues, which are being resolved.”

The NDP also took aim Wall for an October 1, 2014, tweet calling the facility “fully operational” the day before it opened.

According to the SaskPower chart, the plant didn’t capture any carbon until three weeks later.

The government has conceded there should have been more disclosure about problems with the carbon capture and storage facility, once it was shown there was little mention of penalties outside of one sentence in the 144-page SaskPower annual report.

“If we’d told you it’s going to take one, two, possibly three years to get up to full speed on this, we probably wouldn’t be standing here today,” Marsh said Monday.

Powering back up

After being under repair for two months, Marsh says the switch is going back on at Boundary Dam in an effort to get the carbon capture unit up to full speed.

“We’re very confident we’ll achieve full-load performance. Are we going to be able to sustain that? We don’t know.”

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SaskPower says the project is now on target to be fully operational by the end of 2016.

“Once we can achieve stable operation for a year, we’ll be able to prove the technical operation and the economics of this project,” Marsh said. “If you can’t run it stably for a long period of time, you’ll never be able to do that.”

“It takes time to get there.”

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