For a long time, Estevan’s prospects have been tied to the success of coal mining and the continuation of burning coal to produce power.
Coal and coal power in the area account for about 1,000 jobs, a huge percentage for a small city of only 13,000 people. Throughout the construction of the carbon capture project at Boundary Dam Power Station, hundreds of other temporary jobs came to the city, an influx that meant great things for business while adding stress to local infrastructure, and further stress on the social fabric of the community.
Housing continues to catch up to the city’s true needs, while infrastructure upgrades are slowly catching up to the population and job growth Estevan has experienced in the last several years.
“It has been a great thing for the city all the way through,” said Mayor Roy Ludwig. “Through the building stage, you couldn’t get much housing if you tried in Estevan. That was a challenge, but it was a challenge for the right reasons.
“We absolutely felt the impact when construction was at its peak, but now that the construction is over, and now there is a bit of a lull – though I’m sure it won’t last – we’re taking this time for a breather to re-assess and get everything ready for when it gets busier again in the oilfield,” added the mayor.
During an interview inside the personal protective equipment tent at the site of the grand opening of the project last Thursday, Ludwig noted his appreciation of how so many in Estevan handled the influx of people. The completed project, he said, was the reward for that.
“We’ve got an operating clean-coal plant that is the envy of the world, and we’re very happy today to see all of these different countries represented and taking back, hopefully, some of this knowledge that they can make coal a viable resource again for power production.”
About 22 countries were represented at the project’s grand opening, as well as at a two-day carbon capture symposium held in Regina in the days leading up to the opening. However, it’s still uncertain if companies in any other country will use the Estevan project as a model for capturing carbon dioxide and other harmful pollutants.
Still, the Estevan project is being considered a success as it started capturing carbon dioxide the minute the system was turned on. Ludwig said that means the potential, and perhaps even the expectation, that further projects will follow Boundary Dam Unit 3 with BD4, BD5 and BD6.
“This means, with this successful technology, that we can look forward to units four, five and six being refurbished, and as far as employment at SPC and the coal mines staying static and not in slow decline, as we were expecting the way it was before this new plant came to be,” said Ludwig, who has worked for years in the coal mining industry around Estevan.
“For a long time coal was seen as a twilight industry. Ontario got out of it completely and said they will not burn any more coal. We were shipping a lot of coal to Ontario and we were hurt by that,” added Ludwig. “It’s nice to see now, through the technologies that have been developed and the foresight that our provincial and federal governments came to the table with, it has just been a great, great thing, not only to our community but also to the whole coal industry.”
With how closely tied the futures of both coal and Estevan are, what benefits one, naturally benefits the other.