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Steps SaskPower Could Take To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The Decade Ahead

Context: FCG's Central Saskatchewan Chapter hosted an online event on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 to mark GreenFaith International's Faiths 4 Climate Justice: Global Multi-religious Climate Action Days in advance of COP26. The event focused on energy and how people of faith can positively influence SaskPower’s policies. Guest speakers include Peter Prebble and Rev. Karen Fraser Gitlitz: See full video here.

Supplementary Information on Recommended Steps SaskPower Could Take To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions In The Decade Ahead

Recommendations Prepared by Peter Prebble   

Wednesday, October 20, 2021 

Observations Regarding Saskatchewan’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Each year the Government of Canada compiles a National Inventory Report on our country’s greenhouse gas emissions, along with breakdowns by province.  It files this National Inventory Report with the United Nations.  The most recent report was published in April 2021 and covers the calendar year 2019.  In 2019 Saskatchewan’s manmade greenhouse gas emissions totaled 74.8 million tonnes. 


For our population size, Saskatchewan’s province-wide greenhouse gas pollution levels are more than three times than the Canadian average.  You will find details of greenhouse gas emissions by province in the summary of Canada’s National Inventory Report.  Refer to Table ES-4: Greenhouse gas emissions by province and territory, selected years (Mt CO2eq).  Saskatchewan’s emissions are consistently higher than British Columbia’s and only a little less than those of Quebec. 

The climate strike movement, led by Greta Thunberg, started in Sweden, and began by protesting the Swedish government’s failure to do enough to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  By way of comparison with Saskatchewan, Sweden, with a population of 10.18 million, had greenhouse gas emissions of 63.3 million tonnes in calendar year 2018.  This is well below Saskatchewan’s 74.8 million tonnes per year and gives us another window into how unacceptably high Saskatchewan’s emissions have become.  

SaskPower Generation Capacity

Saskatchewan Power Corporation has current generating capacity of 4,993 megawatts.  This consists of 3 coal-fired power stations (2 located in Estevan and 1 in Coronach), 10 natural gas-fired power stations, 6 wind power facilities, and 8 hydro facilities.  More detail on current generation capacity can be found HERE. Work is underway to add more natural gas generation and more wind power generation to Saskatchewan’s electricity grid, along with some small solar power projects.  A number of these facilities are under construction, so it’s worth checking the above-mentioned SaskPower website for updates in the future.

SaskPower’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Suggested Measures To Lower Them

In 2019 greenhouse gas emissions specifically from electricity generation in Saskatchewan totaled almost 15.9 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent.  Approximately three quarters of those emissions (11.867 million tonnes) were related to the operation of SaskPower’s coal-fired power stations (and the associated coal mines) while the other quarter (4.026 million tonnes) were related to the operation of our natural gas-fired power stations in Saskatchewan.  For a breakdown of emissions by SaskPower generating station see Table 1 of a recent Saskatchewan Environmental Society report on SaskPower.  This report also has several helpful recommendations.  The Saskatchewan Environmental Society website also has a one-page summary of recommended strategies for reducing SaskPower greenhouse gas emissions

SaskPower reports on its website that its greenhouse gas emissions dropped 20% in the calendar year 2020, in significant part due to the Covid 19 pandemic, but also because of steps the company took aimed at reducing emissions. SaskPower’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase in 2021.  

SaskPower’s coal-fired power stations primarily emit carbon dioxide.  Upon release, the average lifetime of these heat-trapping CO2 emissions in Earth’s atmosphere will be in the range of 100 years. While some carbon dioxide will be taken up in just a few years or decades by trees, other vegetation, and the oceans, at least 15% or more is expected to remain in the atmosphere after 1,000 years. (Source: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis: Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, page 1106.  Refer to FAQ 2.3 What would happen to future climate if we stopped emissions today?)  This has important ethical implications because the negative impact of these emissions (growing public health threats, accelerating glacier melt, accelerating sea level rise, ocean warming, ocean acidification, a marked rise in severe weather, loss of coral reef ecosystems, etc.) are in effect not reversible, at least for several centuries.  There is thus great urgency to minimize further emissions. 

We can expect an important reduction in SaskPower emissions over the next few years given plans to phase out the conventional coal-fired units at the Boundary Dam Power Station in Estevan. These units are reaching the end of their operating lifetime. The one unit at this power station that was retrofitted for carbon capture purposes in 2014 will continue to operate.  There will be some added greenhouse gas emissions as more new natural gas-fired power stations come online in Saskatchewan, but the overall net effect will be a substantive emission reduction.

It is very important for SaskPower to accelerate the phase-out of its other two coal-fired power stations (Shand and Poplar River) and to get this process completed before 2030.  Other coal-reliant provinces have been moving much more quickly than Saskatchewan.  For example, Ontario completed the phase-out of all its coal-fired power stations several years ago, while Alberta, which was heavily coal-reliant for power generation, is expected to complete its phase-out by 2023.

Replacing coal-fired power stations with hydro imports from Manitoba is one of the key steps needed to accelerate the phase out of coal-fired electricity generation in Saskatchewan.  In my presentation on Monday, I suggested that SaskPower import 1,000 megawatts of hydro from Manitoba for this purpose. Federal government assistance is very likely to be available to help Saskatchewan build the transmission line capacity for these hydro imports.  This has become a priority area for the federal government’s new Canada Infrastructure Bank. (Refer to: ‘Canada Infrastructure Bank Three Year Growth Plan’.)

On a positive note, four new wind power facilities are expected to come online in Saskatchewan over the course of the next two years.  SaskPower does not own these wind power facilities, but the corporation is entering into long-term contractual agreements to purchase the green power from each owner.  When these wind power facilities are operational, they will together add 585 megawatts of wind power capacity to the Saskatchewan grid. 

Unlike hydro power, wind power is intermittent.  To get a concrete sense of what this means for electricity production in Saskatchewan, our 6 existing wind power facilities account for approximately 5% of Saskatchewan’s electrical generation capacity, but they produce about 3% of Saskatchewan’s electricity each year. The good news is that wind power costs have dropped sharply over the past decade.  The economics of wind power are now very attractive.  With respect to energy security, wind power and hydro power work very nicely together.  Water can be stored at Lake Diefenbaker during periods when the wind is blowing and can be released to generate electricity whenever there is less wind.  There is also great potential to use wind power in combination with battery storage.  I’m pleased to see that with the help of the Government of Canada, SaskPower is now building its first utility scale Battery Energy Storage System (20 megawatts) in Regina.   

In my judgment, it is reasonable to ask SaskPower to bring online sufficient new wind power projects to account for 25% of SaskPower’s total electrical generation capacity.  With SaskPower’s current grid capacity of almost 5,000 megawatts, 1,250 megawatts of wind power capacity should be able to be properly integrated into our grid in the relatively near future.  Twenty five percent represents a fairly cautious approach, but given our extremely cold winters, I am also conscious of the need to be absolutely certain we maintain grid stability.  We can then go further after we are confident grid stability is assured.  To demonstrate that bringing wind power up to 25% of overall generation capacity should be readily achievable in Saskatchewan, we can look at our U.S. neighbours immediately to the south.  Both North and South Dakota have gone well beyond what I am suggesting.  Both states are already getting over 30% of their total electricity from wind power.  

There is a lot of potential for SaskPower to become more ambitious in its application of solar power.  A first step would be to restore SaskPower’s net metering program to its original form.  The provincial government’s decision to weaken the net metering program hit Saskatchewan’s solar installation industry particularly hard and many solar companies were forced to lay off a high proportion of their staff.   Residential and small commercial solar installations dropped sharply.  A second step would be to plan for larger solar power station projects, including installations in Estevan and Coronach, where coal-fired power plants will need to be phased out and where the potential for utilizing solar energy is excellent and the associated jobs would be welcome.  I suggest aiming for at least 600 megawatts of solar by 2030. Neighbouring Alberta is already seeing large investments in solar power. Saskatchewan’s sunshine resource is every bit as good as Alberta’s. Solar power and wind power complement each other nicely and solar power can play an important role in helping SaskPower meet peak summertime demand for electricity.

There is enormous potential for SaskPower to invest more in electricity efficiency and electricity conservation, also referred to as demand side management.  This would have the effect of reducing electricity demand in Saskatchewan while fully meeting customer needs.  It would thereby lessen the need to bring online as much additional generating capacity.  SaskPower has made some steps forward, reducing peak demand by just over 150 megawatts in the last 13 years.  I suggest the crown corporation now aim to reduce peak demand by another 500 megawatts in the decade ahead.  This type of strategy has been deployed very effectively in U.S. states such as Vermont and California.  In Vermont, electrical utilities have pooled their resources into an organization called Efficiency Vermont.  Efficiency Vermont offers Vermont’s 624,000 residents and Vermont’s businesses and industries a wide suite of conservation programs.  The result over the past 20 years has been 12.5 million tonnes of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and $2.8 billion in savings.  

Karen has done an excellent job in reflecting on the moral importance all Saskatchewan residents reducing greenhouse gas emissions and deepening our connection with the land and the natural world. See full video here.

Recent work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brings this ethical imperative into sharp focus. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has carefully examined the implications for humanity of allowing global average temperature to rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the average temperature in the pre-industrial era. (Global average temperature is currently at 1.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial.)  In a special 2018 report entitled Global Warming of 1.5°C the IPCC advises that:

 (a) “Limiting global warming to 1.5° Celsius compared with 2° Celsius could reduce the number of people exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.”  

(b) “Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to 2 degrees Celsius may reduce the proportion of the world population exposed to a climate-change induced increase in water stress by up to 50%.”  

These are just two examples that highlight the dangers associated with allowing the rise in global average temperature to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial, and the enormous benefits of avoiding this scenario.  In my opinion, for Saskatchewan not to do our fair share in helping limit global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial would constitute a moral failure and a betrayal of today’s youth and future generations.

In order to accomplish this goal, the Secretary General of the United Nations is asking all countries and stakeholders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030The next essential step beyond that will need to be achieving worldwide net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

The Government of Canada has committed Canada to a nation-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.  However, the Government of Saskatchewan has been targeting a reduction of only 12 million tonnes per year by 2030 (approximately 16% below 2018 emission levels).  Most of that reduction is expected to be achieved by implementing policy measures that were initiated by the federal government and have now been agreed to by our provincial government.  The Government of Saskatchewan has a great many other policy levers that lie within provincial jurisdiction that to date it has chosen not to utilize. For a detailed examination of measures that could be taken to reduce emissions in all sectors of the Saskatchewan economy, see the Saskatchewan Environmental Society’s report: “Prairie Resilience” Is Not Enough

To SaskPower’s credit, the crown corporation recently upgraded its target for greenhouse gas emission reduction to:  50% below 2005 emission levels by 2030.  (It was previously set at 40% below 2005 levels by 2030.)  SaskPower is also actively evaluating options that would let it reach net zero emissions by 2050However, for our province to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, SaskPower will need to be net zero well before 2050.  That is because many other sectors of the Saskatchewan economy will require access to very low emission electricity in order to move closer to carbon neutrality.  The transport sector is a good example.  A shift to electric cars will not result in large scale emission reduction as long as that electricity comes from a fossil fuel source. SaskPower should therefore plan to achieve net zero emissions by no later than 2040, and if possible sooner.  With this in mind, SaskPower would be wise to stop adding more natural gas-fired power stations to the Saskatchewan grid, given that all of these natural gas-fired stations will need to be phased out in order to achieve net zero carbon emissions.  SaskPower should focus instead on energy efficiency and on building a renewable energy future for Saskatchewan, including a modern smart grid and investments in top-of-the-line energy storage facilities.

Even a shift to 100% renewable power by 2040 will not completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.  This is because greenhouse emissions are currently released when solar panels and wind turbines are manufactured and when they are transported to their installation site.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has carefully examined this matter.  In its 2014 report on Mitigation of Climate Change it concluded that the lifecycle emissions from onshore wind farms constituted on average 11 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced.  The average lifecycle emissions for rooftop solar panels was determined to be: 41 grams carbon dioxide equivalent for every kilowatt hour of electricity produced. The average lifecycle emissions for hydropower were: 24 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour of electricity production.  (There was a wide range below and above that depending on the hydro facility).  In comparison, the average lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for coal-fired power stations was: 820 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour of electricity.  For natural gas (combined cycle) the average emissions were determined to be 490 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt hour. (Source: “Emissions of selected electricity supply technologies (gCO2eq/kwh) in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, page 1335, Table A.111.1)   I suggest we draw three key conclusions from these findings.  First, emissions from renewable power are far lower than from coal and natural gas.  Second, the emissions from renewable power will still need to be offset with carbon sequestration initiatives such as tree planting and restoration of wetlands, if we are serious about achieving net zero emissions.  Third, SaskPower should set strict environmental criteria when selecting manufacturers and installers for renewable power systems, in order to ensure the environmental footprint of these systems is as small as possible. 

Just before concluding, I want to correct a minor, unintended error when I was introduced on Monday.  I was not the SES Solar Co-op’s first President, but rather the Solar Co-op’s second President.  The first President was the dedicated environmentalist Joe Schmutz.  I served as the Solar Co-op’s President from the beginning of November 2016 to the end of October 2019.  The current President is Rod Johnson.  Check out the Solar Co-op’s website. SES Solar Co-op was Saskatchewan’s first renewable power cooperative and is an entirely volunteer-run organization.  It has over two hundred members and now owns six solar installations in Saskatoon and one at the Ness Creek Festival site in the RM of Big River.

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