REGINA – Saskatchewan is signalling that it wants to be “a player in terms of responsible energy production” by reducing the province’s reliance on coal and adding wind and solar power.
Crown utility SaskPower has announced plans to have up to 50 per cent of power come from renewable sources by 2030.
“I think this is a realistic plan that we believe the people of Saskatchewan will support,” Bill Boyd, minister responsible for SaskPower, said Monday.
“Fifty per cent is a pretty significant target … for generation here in Saskatchewan. I think people want to see us move in that way. I think they also want us to do it in a way that’s still affordable to the ratepayers and also doesn’t result in any new taxes.”
Based on existing technology and expenses, SaskPower estimates it will cost an additional $1.5 billion to increase its renewable sources.
The utility says residential customers will see increases of less than $1 on their bills each month per year over the next 15 years.
About 30 per cent of power capacity could come from wind by 2030. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean wind will produce 30 per cent of Saskatchewan’s power.
Wind is currently capable of generating five per cent of the province’s power capacity, but it actually produced just under three per cent in 2014.
That’s because wind is considered an intermittent power source.
“The capacity factors for wind in the province are very, very good. They’re the best in Canada, but they’re only about 40 per cent, so you can count on the wind over the course of the year about 40 per cent of the time,” said SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh.
Marsh says Saskatchewan generally has clear skies, which is good for solar power. But solar gets tricky in the winter because the days are so short.
Still, Marsh is optimistic.
“If the wind is blowing and the sun is shining at the same time, we’ll be able to generate every megawatt we can from those sources.”
The Opposition said it’s discouraged that SaskPower is aiming for up to 50 per cent of power from renewable sources instead of setting that as a minimum.
“Setting a capacity cap instead of a generation base is a big disappointment. It looks like a decent goal was set, but the watering down started immediately,” said New Democrat environment critic Cathy Sproule.
Saskatchewan needs to look at other power sources as it tries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. Forty-four per cent of the province’s power came from coal last year. It has the highest emissions per capita in the country.
The province is trying to reduce emissions by capturing carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant in Estevan. But the $1.5-billion facility at the Boundary Dam power plant has only been working 45 per cent of the time since it opened in October 2014.
Boyd also said Saskatchewan will not introduce a carbon tax as Alberta did in its climate change plan released on Sunday.
Starting in 2017, Alberta plans to apply a $20-a-tonne price on carbon emissions. The price will increase to $30 in 2018.
Premier Rachel Notley said about 30 per cent of Alberta’s power will come from renewables by 2030. Notley also said her province will move to phase out the province’s coal-fired power generation by then.
Saskatchewan could possibly consider phasing out coal, but only if there’s a development in renewable energy technology.
“For example, in terms of wind energy, if there was a breakthrough in terms of battery storage or something like that, that could change everything … in terms of how electricity is generated in the future,” he said.
“But at this point in time, there’s nothing with respect to that, so we see coal as part of the mix for the next number of years.”
The announcements from Alberta and Saskatchewan come as the premiers meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss climate change ahead of next week’s United Nations climate summit in Paris.