Saskatchewan to use natural gas, possibly coal beyond 2035 federal target: Moe

Coal draglines in southern Saskatchewan Source: iStock

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province is to continue using natural gas and possibly coal beyond the federal government's target date.

Moe said Tuesday the province's existing and soon-to-be built natural gas plants are to be used until their end of life, which would be well past the federal government's 2035 net-zero target.

He said the province is also interested in running its two coal plants, one of which captures carbon, until their end of life in the early 2040s, arguing the facilities help keep power affordable and reliable.

“We do reserve the right provincially to choose how we are going to produce that power, whether it's natural gas, whether it's coal-fired power production with or without (carbon capture and storage),'' Moe said at a news conference.

“What we are interested in is running those assets to the end of their life, which is 2042 and 2044. That's the most efficient, affordable way to provide power, that is what they were designed to do, and we made those investments in those facilities with the full expectation of utilizing those investments until the end of their life.''

Moe's comments come as the federal government develops electricity standards that propose provinces meet net-zero targets by 2035.

He said the 2035 target is unrealistic, arguing it would cost the province $46 billion and cause utility bills to more than double.

Saskatchewan's power grid is largely made up of natural gas and coal to supply consistent baseload power. The province does not have much hydro capacity.

The premier said Saskatchewan can instead meet a 2050 net-zero target. It would be achieved by using natural gas, as well as working toward small modular reactors and intermittent power sources, such as wind and solar.

Ottawa's proposal would allow provinces to use natural gas plants if they capture carbon or are connected to non-emitting fuels.

The minister for SaskPower, the Crown corporation responsible for electricity, said it's too early to decide whether new natural gas plants will be equipped with carbon capture technology.

“It's new technology. It may come to pass,'' Don Morgan said.

However, the province's concerns go beyond natural gas.

The federal government has required the phaseout of unabated coal facilities by 2030, but Moe said it would force Saskatchewan to shutter Boundary Dam Unit 3, the only facility that captures carbon.

“We won't sacrifice the reliability and the affordability of Saskatchewan's power grid to meet some notional target that is not achievable,'' Moe said.

He acknowledged there are other coal-fired plants that will close by their end of life before 2030. He said such facilities are being replaced by new natural gas plants.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has dismissed Moe's claims, saying the regulations aren't yet developed.

He has also said clean electricity projects are becoming ``cost competitive,'' pointing to a study that suggested energy costs would be lower in 2050 because of greener electricity.

Ian Cameron, spokesman for the federal Ministry of Natural Resources, said Ottawa is spending more than $40 billion in clean power generation, noting Saskatchewan has recently received $174 million.

He said low-carbon grids would provide Canada a competitive advantage, adding that other countries are moving to net-zero power by 2035.

Moe said Saskatchewan has asked Ottawa to provide SaskPower with a grant that covers 75 per cent of the cost for the province's first nuclear reactor and 50 per cent in funding for other renewable technologies.

Saskatchewan NDP Opposition energy critic Aleana Young said the Saskatchewan Party government has been “missing in action'' in expanding renewables, while other provinces took steps years ago.

“Scott Moe has made it clear that he doesn't care about reducing emissions,'' Young said in a statement. ``His government killed the solar industry through its changes to the net-metering program and has only expanded the capacity of renewables at SaskPower from 25 per cent to 31 per cent over the last 10 years.''

She also said it's unrealistic for Saskatchewan to meet the 2035 target.

“Would net zero by 2035 have been possible with a different provincial government committed to emissions reductions over the last 16 years? Probably,'' Young said. “But because of Saskatchewan Party inaction for the last 16 years, that isn't an achievable goal for the province today.''

She said the province should use the dollars it collects from the carbon tax to help people pay their utility bills.

The money should also be invested in renewable power and support energy efficiency retrofits, she added.

© 2023 The Canadian Press

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