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Premier Moe discussed the future of power production during visit to Estevan
Cutline: Estevan MLA Lori Carr, left, and Mayor Roy Ludwig, right, listen while Premier Scott Moe spoke in Estevan on Friday.
By David Willberg
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe's long-awaited return to Estevan saw him meet Friday with local officials about potential power-generating options in the Estevan area and elsewhere.
Moe answered questions from City and RM of Estevan officials, union leaders, the Estevan Chamber of Commerce and more at city hall. Joining Moe were Don Morgan, the minister responsible for SaskPower, and Estevan MLA Lori Carr.
The visit came three days after a press conference in Regina, when the premier revealed Saskatchewan's electrical generation plans for 2035 and beyond.
Moe also spent nearly 30 minutes taking questions from the media.
The premier reiterated his statements from earlier in the week that the coming Clean Electricity Regulations would cause at least "a doubling, and quite likely a tripling or even a quadrupling" of power rates. A made-in-Saskatchewan plan is needed, and Moe said it is still in its infancy.
"We have some decisions to make and some discussions to have with various levels of government, but not the least is the people of Estevan that have provided power to this province for decades in the past and I would say we want to have that discussion about how we're going to provide power for decades in the future," said Moe.
He did not make any further announcements or commitments while in Estevan.
The Clean Fuel Regulations and the phase-out of coal in 2030 provide challenges, he said, because they would shutter 65 per cent of Saskatchewan's generation capacity and 70-80 per cent of output in the province. He said the Clean Fuels Regulations could result in natural gas coming to an end in 2035.
"We're putting in place a Saskatchewan plan that, yes, is going to reduce emissions and it's going to ensure that our power rates are affordable ... and our power supply is reliable," said Moe.
Industries that are making investments in the province need to be able to continue to operate and employ people.
"If that means that we run afoul of those two regulations in order to achieve that affordable, reliable electricity supply here in Saskatchewan, if that means we may have to utilize coal out past the 2030 deadline – the imposed deadline the federal government has put in place – that may be the case," said Moe.
The province has coal-fired generating stations that will have useful years beyond the 2030 deadline, including the Shand Power Station, and a decision has to be made on how to utilize those assets, run them to the end of their life and insure affordable, reliable power for Saskatchewan.
The premier believes Saskatchewan should have the right to decide the future of coal-fired generating stations, and whether the Shand Power Station, which was scheduled to come offline in 2042, could be converted to natural gas.
Moe admitted it had been "far too long" since he was last in Estevan, and said it was because there had been "shifting sands" on regulatory changes and the introduction and increases to carbon taxes. His last appearance that included media availability came in February 2020, during a ceremony to mark $8 million for the City of Estevan through a coal transition fund.
"Every time SaskPower has been able to try to set directions, the sand once again shifts under their feet and we have to go back to the drawing board," Moe said.
Moe also cited a recent report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that mentioned multiple examples of existing and planned power-generating projects that should use carbon capture and sequestration to achieve carbon emission reductions.
The EPA specifically cited CCS technology at Boundary Dam, which captured more than 857,000 tonnes of CO2 in a 12-month span from April 2022 to March 2023.
As for small modular reactors, the province needs to have a forward-looking conversation about incorporating the technology. Estevan has been identified as a "very likely" area of the province for one of those reactors. Late last year, the provincial government cited the Estevan and the Lake Diefenbaker areas as potential sites for SMRs.
"We have a significant amount of transmission capacity to come out of the Estevan area," said Moe. "We're building some transmission capacity for import or export just south of Estevan into the U.S. power grid."
The province has asked the federal government to fund 75 per cent of the first SMR built in Saskatchewan.
"That's a great investment in jobs, for Canadian jobs, in jobs across this province."
Small modular reactors weren't part of the conversation when it came to the future of power production a few years ago, but they are now, Moe said. And they're even talking about micro-reactors that would be five and 10 megawatts.
A final decision has not been made on the future of Unit 6 at the Boundary Dam Power Station, which is scheduled to come offline in 2029. Unit 4 has been run intermittently since February 2022, and is expected to be permanently shuttered next spring, while Unit 5 is expected to be moved to stand-by service at the end of next year.
People who attended Friday's session voiced concern with uncertainty, Moe said, and they can't provide certainty.
"The shifting sands have made it incredibly difficult for any power corporation across the nation of Canada to do any significant planning about what will the next 10-20 years be about," said Moe.
Estevan MLA Lori Carr added there is 1,200 megawatts of capacity within the Estevan area that will be used into the future, but decisions have to be made on the supply source.
Mayor Roy Ludwig said he thought the conversation went well on Friday, and it shows Estevan's importance on the file.
"We have been a large part of … producing power for this province for over 50 years, and we're optimistic with collaboration with the province that we will be a large part of the power production for the next 60 years," said Ludwig, who spent more than 40 years working at the local coal mines.
Moe said Saskatchewan needs baseload power, including the capacity available in Estevan.
"There is a place for wind and solar and renewables. Through power purchase agreements, they do have the opportunity to drive the price point down for Saskatchewan people and Saskatchewan industry. But you can't rely on them. You need to have the baseload power."
Jurisdictions can't afford to have one megawatt of renewables for every megawatt of baseload power, or there will be interruptions, Moe said.
A number of people gathered in front of city hall prior to and during the premier's visit, including Phil Zajac of Estevan, the leader of the Buffalo Party of Saskatchewan. Some party supporters were present as well.
Zajac noted that he shook hands with the premier before the meeting and thanked him for extending the life of coal in Saskatchewan, which Zajac admitted was a somewhat sarcastic remark.
Zajac and the Buffalo Party have previously voiced their belief that coal-fired power should remain in the electrical mix.