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U.S. Senator and Premier get close up look at BD3

Premier Brad Wall referred to it as an international game changer and visiting U.S.
Premier Brad Wall and Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Premier Brad Wall referred to it as an international game changer and visiting U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp sees the SaskPower Boundary Dam Unit 3 CO2 capture project as one that will provide a huge advantage for North American power and oil producers, if it works.

"I need to say how grateful we are to your provincial government and the people of this province for working on the technology and be willing to share the information with us," said Heitkamp who was in Estevan with Premier Brad Wall last Thursday to tour the BD3 site where clean coal technology is about to be rolled out on a grand scale.

The absorbers are ready to collect the sulphur dioxides and carbon dioxides and to sequester them and use them for enhanced oil recovery in nearby fields or, in the case of sulphur, sold to the North American industrial complex.

Wall said he had met the Democratic Senator when he paid a visit to Washington in March to talk about energy options, pipelines and North American partnerships.

At that time Heitkamp had expressed a great deal of interest in the BD3 project, so Wall issued an invitation to her to visit the site, which she did on Thursday.

Heitkamp included the CEO of North Dakota's Basin Electric, Andy Serri in the small group that made the trek to Estevan to see the latest in carbon capture technology being put in place.

The duo, along with Wall and Estevan MLA Doreen Eagles, were given an overview of the project by Ian Yeates, director of corporate planning and rate design for SaskPower prior to the tour that was conducted by Mike Zeleny, project manager, carbon capture transition to operation.

Heitkamp said she was very interested in how older coal-fired power units can be retrofitted to embrace the new technology, and later she said the most compelling part of the presentation and tour was found in the economics of the project and how it could translate into similar programs in North Dakota. She pointed out the similarities between Saskatchewan and North Dakota where both jurisdictions rely heavily on coal-fired power plants and both have large nearby oilfields that can use carbon dioxide as an enhanced oil recovery tool, which makes the carbon capture process economically worthwhile.

Yeates pointed out that coal power plants still provide up to 52 per cent of Saskatchwan's electrical needs while gas and hydro follow at 22 and 19 per cent respectively.

He said the BD3 plant, which is already experiencing some commissioning movement, will be completely on line by April of 2014. He said 50 per cent of the $1.24 billion cost of this project has been for the actual capture process while 30 per cent has been spent on refurbishment of the No. 3 generating unit, which included a new turbine that will be capable of providing up to 110 megawatts of power once it is hooked up to the carbon capture island. Another 20 per cent of the cost structure has been spent on emission control and efficiency upgrades, Yeates said.

Using CO2 as an oil recovery tool, is already proven, he said, since the nearby Weyburn oilfield that has used North Dakota gas as an agent for over 10 years now, is experiencing oil recovery at a 35-year high. He said the information gleaned from this process is already being shared with American partners as well as 12 other countries who are part of the data consortium.

As for BD3 and clean coal, Yeates said vendors, governments and power utilities around the world "are interested in this as are a lot of environmental groups. Some are dismissive, others see the value and potential."

Yeates also spoke briefly about the new test facility under construction at nearby Shand Power Station, the biggest test facility around. It will allow other agencies to test their own capture systems, using their own formulas and amine solutions before venturing out to do it on a commercial scale.

Heitkamp said it is interesting to see how public opinion impacts decision-making on projects such as this, and she said she would like to see a comparison of acceptance of coal as a fueling agent in Canada compared with its acceptance in the United States.

Wall responded by saying that so far there has been no huge opposition shown toward the Estevan project, but there had been some controversy over the numbers.

"But people are generally accepting, especially after they see the choices," Wall said.

Yeates said the power that will be generated from Unit 3 at Boundary Dam will be cost competitive with current kilowatt prices, with perhaps a small increase.

There was also some discussion about how far carbon dioxide can be transported before it is no longer economical as an enhanced oil recovery agent, and that was seen as 300 kilometres or about 200 miles in U.S. terms.

Zeleny told the touring group of politicians and media that the BD3 capture island will have up to 55 people on staff on the operations side once it gets underway with 30 of those being direct operators while the others will be support staff such as engineers and maintenance. The commissioning team numbers about 30, he said and they have been seconded from around the province and brought into Estevan for their knowledge of certain aspects of each stage of the operation and transition.

"We need them for both the capture and the power island. We looked within our system to find the people who can get this job done and we brought them in. A few had to switch their priorities list for awhile, but we're confident we have the right people on line," said Zeleny.

Gary Cooper, who has been overseeing the entire carbon capture project for lead contractor, SNC Lavalin, was included in the tour and confirmed that some of the commissioning work was already underway.

"This is world-renowned technology. You are leading the way here for a responsible and sustainable power supply," said Heitkamp. "I promised to take a look. I can now go on the floor of the Senate and say I've been there and that this story needs to be told."

"Until we get a transition fuel, we need to use coal," said Wall. "We need this for our economy and we are today's story and we're proving our (EOR) technology thanks to the fact CO2 has been coming to us from North Dakota. We can say CO2 storage and EOR works because of this partnership and the history we have with North Dakota."

Wall also noted that Heitkamp had paid a visit to Alberta Premier Allison Redford and the oil sands operations in that province and has been vocal in her support of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada into the United States.