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'Bills would more than double': Sask. says making province's electrical grid net-zero by 2035 is impossible

The Saskatchewan government used a public consultation from Ottawa to reaffirm its disagreement with the federal government’s proposed requirement to have net-zero emissions electricity grids across the whole country by 2035.

The federal government first proposed the requirement in August through the Clean Electricity Regulations (CER). Prior to that the federal government was requiring net-zero electrical grids by 2030.

According to a news release from the province, SaskPower is estimating electricity bills would more than double to cover the costs associated with creating a net-zero electrical grid in the province over the next 14 years.

“The federal net-zero power system plan is expected to cost Saskatchewan about $40 billion from now until 2035,” the release said.

The province said if Ottawa’s current proposition stands, SaskPower would need to rebuild more than 100 per cent of its current capacity in the next 11 years while also significantly expanding its infrastructure.

Instead, Saskatchewan has again outlined a plan of its own to achieve net-zero electrical generation by 2050.

The plan includes utilizing natural gas power plants until they reach the end of their life date and allowing coal-fired power plants Boundary Dam 3 and Shand Power Station to operate until 2044 and 2042.

In a letter sent to the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, Dustin Duncan, Saskatchewan’s crown investments corporation minister, said the province’s plan is one that will achieve net-zero electrical generation under “realistic and sensible timelines and conditions so as not to undermine the affordability and reliability of electricity production in Saskatchewan.”

The plan was first revealed by Premier Scott Moe in May.

According to the province, Saskatchewan currently does not have a non-emitting baseload power source that could fully replace coal and gas-fired electrical generation.

Because of that, Saskatchewan’s proposed plan to create a net-zero electrical grid by 2050 includes what the province has said is an “energy mix that ensures reliable baseload power and affordable rates.”

Saskatchewan says billions of dollars have already been invested toward creating a net-zero electrical grid with investments in solar, wind, biomass, natural gas generation with carbon capture and increased hydro imports.

The province is also exploring nuclear power with plans to generate power with a small modular reactor (SMR).

“Our government will not risk the affordability and reliability of Saskatchewan’s power grid to attempt the impossible based on an arbitrary federal emissions target and timeline,” Duncan said in his letter.

Duncan said the province is calling on the federal government to accept Saskatchewan’s plan that will achieve a net-zero electrical grid while also protecting the province’s economy.

According to the province, the Conference Board of Canada estimates that transitioning all of Canada’s electrical grids to net zero over the next 14 years would cost $1.7 trillion, while the Universite de Montreal estimated the national cost at $1.1 trillion.

Ottawa's proposed CER would require all electricity generation to be from renewable sources, like wind or hydro, or to be equipped with carbon capture technology, but Duncan says the technology isn't yet feasible.

"We don't know if [carbon capture] would exist in time and, even if it did, would it actually meet the standard prescribed in the regulation?" he asked.

Saskatchewan spent $1.5 billion on a unit to capture carbon at the coal Boundary Dam Power Station.

Rupen Pandya, SaskPower's CEO, told reporters the carbon capture technology at the dam wouldn't be applicable to natural gas plants.

Pandya said the unit also hasn't fully lived up to its potential, as it has captured 800,000 tonnes of carbon per year, not the one million tonnes the province initially promised.

"I think at the time with the information that we had, it wasn't a mistake, because what it was about was sustaining baseload power," Duncan said about the unit.

Duncan also said the province is concerned that Ottawa's target could mean hundreds of SaskPower workers losing their jobs.

He said the province is reviewing how it could help workers transition to other jobs once all its coal fired facilities close.

According to Duncan, the province does not disagree with Ottawa when it comes to transitioning to a net-zero electrical grid, just the timeline in doing so.

Speaking with reporters following question period on Tuesday – NDP Energy Critic Aleana Young reiterated that the federal timeline is “unachievable.”

“No details. No business case. No accountability, no transparency,” she said. “I think we've been quite clear that the feds need to give their head a shake and that the province needs to be interested in more than just a fight because people the province are looking for solutions.”

-- With files from David Prisciak, Allison Bamford and The Canadian Press. Top Stories

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