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SaskPower prioritizing maintenance of aging infrastructure

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WATCH: If you live in Regina you might think there are more power outages this year, and you're right. David Baxter has more on what SaskPower is planning on doing – Jul 5, 2019

If you live in the Regina area, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed what feels like more power outages than usual this year. If you have, you’re right, according to SaskPower’s CEO Mike Marsh.

While tabling the Crown corporation’s annual report, Marsh said they will be making major investments in “sustainability infrastructure.” In other words, focusing on aging infrastructure.

“We’re at the end of life for a lot of this equipment. That’s why it needs more investment. You don’t spend money on equipment that’s not failing 20 years ago. Now that equipment is 20 years older and we’re reaching a period of age where we need to continually invest going forward,” Marsh said.

Going forward, SaskPower plans on spending around $830 million annual on capital projects. Of that, around $400 million is set aside for rehabbing infrastructure that’s 50 to 70 years old.

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READ MORE: SaskPower working around the clock to deal with multiple outages in Regina

Between Jan. 1, 2018, and July 4, 2018, Regina saw 109 power outages affecting more than 50 customers. In the same period in 2019, that figure climbed to 124 outages.

Marsh said sustainability work will take a long time, stretching across the province. This year, Regina has emerged as a problem area and will be treated as a priority.

The report shows SaskPower missed their outage targets by more than 20 per cent.

NDP caucus chair Carla Beck said complaints of increased outages have been around for years, and the need to better maintain aging infrastructure has been highlighted by Saskatchewan’s auditor.

“This has been brought up as a concern for a number of years. Whether we have an adequate amount of investment whether we have an adequate amount of investment in infrastructure. I would suggest that we don’t,” Beck said.

She said the government has been misdirecting SaskPower’s priorities; overspending on projects like carbon capture and storage (CCS) smart meters, and SaskPower buying land at the Global Transportation Hub.

READ MORE: SaskEnergy launching furnace rebate program, boasts strong fiscal year

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SaskPower’s other infrastructure plans include a continued expansion of renewable generation, finishing the natural gas Chinook Power Station near Swift Current, and expanding transmission lines.

“We have to be mindful of these types of expenditures because they do result at the end of the day in an upward pressure on rates,” Marsh said.

SaskPower does not anticipate having to increase rates this year.

New natural gas power regulations

SaskPower plans on building a natural gas power plant near Moose Jaw, but new federal regulations revealed June 28 have the Crown corporation pumping the breaks.

Minister Responsible for SaskPower Dustin Duncan said the new regulations mean any new combined-cycle natural gas plant that becomes operational after 2021 would need to be at zero emissions by 2030 or pay regulatory fees.

Duncan added it is too early to say the project is at risk, but the Crown corporation will have to look at how cost effective the planned plant would be under the regulations.

The plans were developed under draft regulations, according to Duncan, and they knew change would be coming eventually.

READ MORE: Feds announce funding for coal energy transition in Saskatchewan, Alberta

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However, Duncan was in meetings with federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna all day on June 27. He said the regulations that were unveiled the next day were not mentioned.

“We need to return to, whether it’s under the existing federal government or a new federal government … we need to return to collaborative federalism. We have right now confrontational federalism,” he said.

“We need to somehow get back to, whatever disagreements we may have, to get back to having a relationship where we can … feel like we’re actually at the table.”

McKenna said the incentives came from months of industry consultation and are meant to spur innovation.

-With files from the Canadian Press.