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Alberta’s NDP government doesn’t get it on CO2

Shortly after coming to power, the new NDP government in Alberta has started moving on its climate change and associated greenhouse gas policies. The early indications are not promising.

Shortly after coming to power, the new NDP government in Alberta has started moving on its climate change and associated greenhouse gas policies. The early indications are not promising.

Alberta governments seem to have developed an uncanny ability to kick the province’s primary industries while they are down. This happened during the last royalty review under the Ed Stelmach regime, and now it’s happening again under the new premier, Rachel Notley.

While this most-recent royalty review gets underway, they have begun ratchetting up carbon pricing. It’s set to double in two years.

What most people don’t know is Alberta is actually a leader on this front, having had a price on carbon dioxide produced by large-scale emitters for some years now. The money collected is supposed to go into a technology fund. Saskatchewan has looked to this concept to model its policies on.

The technology fund is not supposed to be a tax. Rather, it’s meant to be something companies can draw upon to pay for new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With a doubling of the carbon fees, one would expect a lot more money to be going into that fund.

What it looks like right now is the Alberta government is trying to take a page from the playbook of the Ontario Liberals.

There, former premier Dalton McGuinty decreed Ontario was getting out of coal-fired power.

Alberta is very much dependent on coal to produce about 40 per cent of its power, a number pretty close to Saskatchewan.

But Alberta’s new government doesn’t seem to be too interested in following Saskatchewan’s lead on coal power.

In the past year Saskatchewan has put together the final pieces of the carbon capture and storage concept in a commercial concept. With the Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Project in operation since last fall, we now have a commercial-scale power plant generating coal-fired power. We have an associated capture plant capturing nearly all the carbon dioxide (and sulphur dioxide, to boot, good in dealing with that whole acid-rain issue). We have an injection well research project called Aquistore meant to store captured CO2 into the deepest accessible geologic formation in the province, where it should stay forever. But most of that carbon dioxide is pipelined 70 kilometres down the road to the Cenovus-operated
Weyburn unit, a depleted oilfi eld that has been producing since the 1960s.

It was thought this oilfi eld would run dry decades ago, but the use of new technologies, including the CO2 miscible fl ood 15 years ago with North Dakota-source carbon dioxide, had kept it pumping for generations, and will continue to do so likely for generations to come. That oilfield, 60 years old, is so valuable it fi gured largely in a royalty lands deal just today between Cenovus and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

A few weeks ago I attended the grand opening of the Carbon Capture Test Facility at the Shand Power Station. Its purpose is to prove the next generation of carbon capture technologies, specifi cally the chemicals known as amine used to collect the carbon dioxide from the exhaust of a power plant.

Alberta’s NDP does not seem convinced CCS can work.

We, in Saskatchewan are proving that indeed it does work. Alberta could retrofit much of its coal fleet in coming years with capture units – the costs of which are expected to come down as the technology matures. SaskPower already thinks it could save a good chunk of money on its next generation capture facility over the first.

This would allow Alberta to continue to take advantage of its wonderful bounty of coal, in a manner that negates the climate change issue. It also would provide the oil industry with carbon dioxide that would refresh production from longdepleted oil fields throughout the province. (But doesn’t that produce more CO2 in the end? The argument is oil is going to be produced anyway, might as well do it in a manner that reduces the CO2 versus baseline oil production). Any money from increased carbon taxes should go towards CCS projects. Alberta is at a crossroads. The changes made by this new government could squander its natural advantage, or allow it to surpass Saskatchewan and become a world-leader in clean coal development.

Clean coal is a reality. I can see it from my house. They just have to be willing to pursue it, as Saskatchewan already has.

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