Conversation is once again buzzing regarding the future of coal power in Canada and the world. An alliance was announced on Thursday between Canada and the UK, with the hopes of rallying global support for the elimination of coal power and associated emissions, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau aims to achieve by 2030.

However, it's a lot easier said than done, and the feasibility is often debated. While 18 countries, as well as several provinces, have signed on to participate so far, others are hesitant to jump on board. This includes Saskatchewan, which has a heavy reliance on the hardened fossils. That said, it also has the technology to make the process safe for the environment and for the local economy, namely, the Carbon Capture and Storage project located at the Boundary Dam Power Station. According to the Minister of Energy and Resources, Dustin Duncan, they are working towards a compromise with the federal government.

"Our hope is they will agree to a fleet-wide equivalency agreement. For instance, we are well under the federal regulations for carbon dioxide output by a coal fired power plant at BD3. Being able to apply on a fleet-wide basis would, in theory, allow us to use what we are under at BD3 to offset what would be over on the others. The challenge for Saskatchewan is, if we have to phase out completely by 2030, the lifespan of the Shand power plant is 2042. We will, as a province, have invested in a power plant that we would not be able to operate to the end of it's life-cycle. I think everybody should be worried about that. Our goal is to try to negotiate some flexibility in terms of when we would have to make decisions on the future of coal in Saskatchewan."

The province isn't alone in this line of thinking, as others are looking at the option as well. No one wants to follow the path of Ontario, where coal power was rather abruptly ceased, spiking the cost of electricity.

The other units in the Boundary Dam Power Plant will either have to be retrofitted with carbon capture technology to follow BD3's example, or be shut down by 2030, unless the provincial government manages to gain flexibility in the decision.

"My expectation, and certainly my interest, is that the agreement wording will be agreed to by the federal Minister (Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change) in the next couple of weeks. We would then have to stand up some provincial regulations, which would then allow the federal government to stand down their regulations after that," Duncan said.

"It's a bit of a longer process than that, because in order for them to essentially pass the agreement, that has to go through the vetting process at the federal level, which is lengthy. I would say, over the course of 2018, we will be well on our way."

He added that they are confident that the federal government will agree to the proposal. That said, a compromise to continue the burning of coal doesn't seem to be something that the PM would prefer to put in his book, which raises the question of just how long the province hopes to sustain coal power, and how SaskPower's initiative to reach 50 percent renewables  plays into that.

"We have to have those conversations about what the power mix looks like going forward into the future, but as a part of that we need to be mindful that we will have an asset, mainly in the Shand power plant, which has a life expectancy that would end at 2042, so we'll have to make a decision. We'll have to be comfortable knowing that the regulations, if we choose to, would allow us to operate past that 2030 date."

Duncan noted that the federal government's hard stance on 2030 is a concern for them, as it means they would not be able to operate Shand for the last 12 years of it's life, which then goes into the power bills. If things end at the federal deadline, then other sources of power will have to be available to carry Saskatchewan into the future. As of yet, it appears that those are not fully in place, and things are further complicated by the uncertainly of whether the federal government will actually agree to the equivalency proposal. In addition, SaskPower still has to determine the costs associated with different long term power generating sources.

The fate of the rest of the Boundary Dam units, as well as other plants, will also have to be considered. While BD3 has the CCS, Duncan stated that the others would either have to be retrofitted with similar technology by 2030 or shut down, unless the flexibility can be gained from the equivalency agreement that will allow the provincial government to decide how and when to shut down any power plants.

"It'll be some significant decisions that will have to be made," he concluded.


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