The uncertain fate of coal power in the coming years has many worried in southeast Saskatchewan, a region dominated by the industry.
The federal government recently announced an alliance between Canada and the UK for a renewed commitment to phase everything out by 2030, and at least 18 other countries have already jumped on board. However, Saskatchewan is striving to negotiate a deal, where the emissions that may be over federal standards are offset by what the carbon capture project reduces.
"The devil is in the details, so we'll be looking at that very closely to see what that means for us," said Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig, "We've got a 1.5 billion dollar clean coal unit already in operation, it's successful and we're very proud of it. We're also proud of the fact that the province and federal government came to the table. We feel that we are on the cutting edge, we have the technology to take the CO2 out of the atmosphere, and we would like to think that we will continue down that path with the clean coal technology, which is environmentally friendly."
That said, some of those alternative power sources appear to be cheaper at the moment, such as natural gas.
"Right now, that's true. But if you look at the nature of the price for natural gas, it's been as high as triple what it is now, or more. Rather than be held hostage by high prices, we would like to see the clean coal technology continue to move forward and be a model for the rest of the world. China has been here looking at our plant, we've had countries from absolutely all over the world. I think it's technology worth pursuing and we're hoping optimistically that we'll be going that route."
Ludwig added that, when it comes down to making a decision on the infrastructure and industry in the southeast, the City of Estevan would like to be directly involved in the talks. They will also look at any and all economic alternatives to fill the void if the plants are shut down.
Moving forward, it's no secret that SaskPower has a goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030. The question is...what will the other 50 percent be?
"I truly believe coal has a place in power production, with carbon capture technology," stated MLA Lori Carr, "It takes 90 percent of emissions out of the air, which is actually cleaner than natural gas."
She added that one needs to look at things province wide, and while some sources may be more expensive, everything must be taken into consideration.
"For example, in the Estevan constituency, there's the economy. If we don't have coal fired power generation as we do right now, it could be detrimental to both our power production and our coal mining industry, which means less jobs in the area."
"Our goal by 2030 is to be 50 percent renewables. Obviously, that's not coal or gas, so we need to have wind and solar. We're looking at biomass. Who know's, maybe small nuclear reactors...we have uranium right here in the province of Saskatchewan that we're not using. There will be a lot of things considered going forward."
Dr. Robert Kitchen, MP for Souris Moose Mountain observed that, when Canada and it's partners met for the alliance announcement, they talked about the transition from 'unabated coal fired electricity.'
"My understanding is that 'unabated' means coal fired energy that does not have carbon capture and storage technology, so that's a bonus for us in the sense that we do have that. We've had the Minister (Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of Climate Change and Environment) come to Estevan and have a tour of the plant. Hopefully that's a good sign, that the federal government will stand up and say, 'here's an opportunity to utilize and advance this technology.'"
He was hesitant to speculate on the potential outcome if the federal government decided to move forward with total phase out.
"You know as well as I do the huge effect that would have on the southeast, and it would have a devastating impact on our communities. I'm hoping that we will continue to be positive, and continue to utilize the technologies that we have."
Overall, common consensus seems to be to wait and see what comes out of the equivalency agreement being negotiated between the provincial and federal governments. SaskPower already has a plan in place to reach 50 percent renewable energy sources by 2030, so it only remains to be seen whether that other half will be composed of clean coal production like they hope.