The Saskatchewan government has put SaskPower’s plan to reduce emissions by 40 per cent of 2005 levels and a power generation capacity of up to 50 per cent at the centre of their climate change strategy.
Currently, just under 25 per cent of the provinces 4,491 megawatts (MW) comes from renewables. Hydroelectricity generates the majority at 889 MW, wind power 221 MW.
By 2030, the Crown corporation estimates power capacity in Saskatchewan will be 7,000 MW, meaning the goal is to have 3,500 MW comes from renewables.
“Is it achievable? I think it is, yes,” SaskPower planning director Doug Opseth said.
Current RFPs in Saskatchewan are for 200 MW of wind power and a 10 MW utility-scale solar facility. The province says 15 applications qualified for the wind RFP. A decision on the successful candidate will be announced in the near future.
These two projects will add less than five per cent more renewable capacity to Saskatchewan’s power grid, according to SaskPower.
Opseth says Saskatchewan will still need baseload power generated through conventional means like natural gas. This is because wind and solar can be intermittent in their generating capacity, and Saskatchewan doesn’t have sufficient power storage yet.
For this reason, Opseth says SaskPower likely will not be generating power at full renewable capacity by 2030.
“It would be somewhere between, I’m guessing, 45-50 per cent, but I’d have to double check that number to make sure it’s correct,” Opseth said.
SaskPower has confirmed their modelling team projects real generation to be at 45 per cent by 2030. They remain confident capacity, the primary measure for modelling, will reach 50 per cent by 2030.
While SaskPower believes 50 per cent capacity is achievable, it is not their main goal.
“What’s really important to remember is that we’ve committed to emission reduction. So emission reduction really is our main goal, and the way in which we’re doing that is adding lots of renewable generation,” Opseth said.
Renewable capacity, coupled with carbon capture and storage (CCS) at Boundary Dam Three just south of Estevan.
The current RFPs for wind and solar are expected to close in the coming months. Opseth says the next round of RFPS will likely be launched early next year.
This staggered approach to bringing renewables online is a major part of the current plan.
“So by adding them in a more measured way, in blocks going up to 2030, it allows our system time to adapt to it allows our system to adapt to that kind of intermittent generation,” Opseth said.
Opseth added that in addition to adaptation, the slower approach will minimize rate increase for this expansion of renewable resources. In 2015, SaskPower estimated this plan would cost $1.5 billion more than expanding capacity purely through non-renewable means.
The minister responsible for SaskPower, Dustin Duncan, acknowledged there is a tight timeframe to more than double renewable capacity in less than 12 years.
“It is an ambitious goal, and obviously the time is ticking down to 2030. It’s a lot closer than we think. Especially for a power utility, it is a short amount of time,” Duncan said.
To help make this goal a reality, the RFP process is looking to bring the private sector onboard.
“We’ve seen some really good results in other jurisdictions, most notably Alberta next door to us in terms of the prices that their auctions have come in for their renewables,” he said.
Algonquin Power’s Blue Hill wind farm, formally pitched for the Chaplin area, is expected to be online by 2020 according to SaskPower and generate 177 MW.
SaskPower critic Cathy Sproule says she is disappointed to hear it is just capacity that is expected to be 50 per cent renewable, and not generation.
“If emission reduction was the true goal, then they would be operating the CCS facility at 100 per cent. Right now they’re running around 60 per cent because that’s the business model,” she said.
“They could certainly be reducing emissions by a lot more there if that’s the true goal. I don’t think it is the true goal.”
Some outage time at the CCS facility in 2017 was associated with a maintenance outage at the Boundary Dam Three power station itself. SaskPower says the CCS facility has been operation 100 per cent of the time since January, 2018.
Sproule says she believes the true goal of this plan revolves around the federal regulations calling for coal’s role in power generation to be minimized.
Future of Saskatchewan coal
The future of Saskatchewan’s coal fleet is in question while the province and federal government negotiate an equivalency agreement. This agreement would allow Saskatchewan to be more flexible in the timelines to retrofit coal plants, with technology like CCS, and extend their lifespan. The details of how this works will depend on what is finalized in the equivalency agreement.
Much of Saskatchewan’s coal capacity is expected to be wound down by 2030 or sooner. Coal accounts for 1,530 MW of Saskatchewan’s 4,491 MW capacity.
“So we’ll have to balance off not only what the renewable capacity is going to look like, and how we get to that 50 per cent renewable capacity, but there will be baseload conversations that we have to have as well,” Duncan said.
Duncan said that needs to eventually expand so the natural gas power baseload does not change the 2030 goal. Saskatchewan’s current natural gas capacity is 1,824 MW.
The Chinook Power Station near Swift Current is currently under construction. It is expected to generate 350 MW using natural gas.
“With intermittent generation, such as wind and solar, we really need to have a backup there. That’s one of the reasons we’re building facilities like our Chinook Power Station. We need to have something there that we can rely on,” Opseth explained.
Both Duncan and Opseth said that since this plan was announced prices for renewable technology have continually gone down.
In addition to this, Duncan spoke highly of new battery and power storage technology being developed by companies like Tesla. The minister said that as wind technology continually becomes less expensive power storage will be the next major area Saskatchewan looks to invest in.
Sproule countered by saying if the government was serious about this kind of investment they would have acted earlier.
“We’ve got lots of space for new technology and innovation there. If we would have had our technology fund for the last ten years we might be a lot closer, but unfortunately those jobs aren’t in Saskatchewan right now,” she said.
Saskatchewan does have a green technology fund on the books that would have seen heavy emitters pay into the fund. It has yet to be put into practice, but exists as one of the carbon mitigation measures in Saskatchewan’s climate change plan. That plan Prairie Resilience, is expected to be put into action next year.
While the next steps for wind and solar will be announced once the current RFP process is complete, SaskPower also anticipates new hydro announcements as well.
SaskPower will be announcing further deals to buy hydroelectric power from Manitoba Hydro in the near future. A January 2016 deal between the two powers companies has Saskatchewan buying 100 MW of hydroelectricity from Manitoba starting in 2020. That deal will last 20 years.