It’s been a little more than a year since delegates from around the world gathered at the Boundary Dam Power Station for the grand opening of the integrated carbon capture and storage project – the first of its kind in the world.
The project has endured a roller coaster ever since. There have been many highs. Global leaders, including a U.S. Republican presidential candidate, have extolled the virtues of the project and its cutting edge technology.
Unit 3 at Boundary Dam, which was retrofitted with carbon capture technology, has generated more power than expected.
There have also been numerous awards, including the Edison Electrical Institute’s Edison Award, which is one of the most prestigious honours in power generation. Even National Geographic took notice by naming Boundary Dam’s CCS initiative one of 10 energy breakthroughs that could change the world.
But there have also been the obstacles and challenges, including the replacement of a key component in the carbon capture island. There have been multiple shutdowns in the past year, as SaskPower and its crews try to rectify the glitches.
You should expect some hiccups when dealing with state-of-the-art technology, and they will hopefully be corrected, but it could be more problems than SaskPower would have liked.
SaskPower also has to decide their next step.
Sometime in 2016, the Crown utility will have to determine the future of Units 4 and 5 at Boundary Dam. Will they retrofit the two units with clean coal technology, like they did Unit 3, or will they mothball them, like they did with Units 1 and 2?
When SaskPower closed Units 1 and 2, it was an inevitable measure, as it wasn’t cost-effective to retrofit them. Staff were shuffled to other areas of the plant. But if Units 4 and 5 close down, the local repercussions could be significant.
It’s expected the scope of the retrofit at Units 4 and 5 would not be the same as Unit 3. Each would not generate as much power as Unit 3, and the project cost would not be as high.
Coal remains the most cost-efficient and reliable method to generate electricity. It’s more affordable than nuclear, most predictable than natural gas, and more reliable than renewables. We need to find a way to keep coal in the power generation equation, since the days are numbered for conventional and compliant coal technologies in North America.
Carbon capture and storage allows coal to remain relevant. While other jurisdictions that rely on coal haven’t jumped on board with CCS, many of them are still investigating the technology to see if it suits them.
Unit 3 has been a success in a lot of ways. It hasn’t changed the world just yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen one day. And it has been far more effective than its critics say, but that’s because many of them want nothing to do with coal.
We can only hope that the other units at Boundary Dam, along with the Shand Power Station, have a similar future to Unit 3. It would be a shame, and a financial boondoggle, if Unit 3 becomes a one-off project.