Last Monday, at a ministerial meeting of members of the Group of Seven, which includes Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, an announcement was made the nations had come to an agreement to phase out the use of coal-fired power plants by 2035. The news came as a shock for many, with nations such as Japan and the U.S. previously digging their heels in on any commitments to phase out coal.  

Here in Saskatchewan, the Minister Responsible for SaskPower, Dustin Duncan, noted the federal government was overreaching when they made the commitment. 

“We’ve always said that this is a provincial responsibility,” Duncan told Discover Weyburn. “It really isn’t the federal jurisdiction in terms of how we produce electricity in Saskatchewan.” He noted situations like the Clean Electricity Regulations introduced by the federal government don’t work for Saskatchewan and could impair the ability for the province to operate its coal-fired power plants to the end of their life cycles. 

There was one caveat in particular, though, that caught Duncan’s attention in the announcement. 

“The ability to abate coal – we're doing that at Boundary Dam 3,” Duncan commented. “We had our best quarter this last quarter in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that’s been sequestered.” Carbon capture and storage was officially launched at Boundary Dam back in 2014, becoming the first power station in the world to successfully use the technology.  

With the pressure now coming with the 2035 deadline reached in agreement with the other G7 nations, the federal government is now being called on by Saskatchewan to help prevent the loss of assets without anything to show for it.  

“All we’re asking is to be able to run them to their end-of-life, and really to be able to ensure that we’re not stranding assets,” Duncan said. “If the federal government is insisting that we do strand assets, then they need to be at the table in terms of some real dollars to help us not only essentially be able to pay for that stranded asset, but also to be able to put into whatever next technology that we pursue.” 

The provincial government has been looking at the use of nuclear power, specifically small modular reactors. They have started the process, including signing memorandums of understanding with Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick for cooperation on the development of SMRs. SaskPower has also signed an agreement with GE Hitachi for the design, fuel sourcing and fabrication of a BWRX-300 reactor.  

The province has also increased the amount of electricity being generated by natural gas plants, with it now accounting for roughly 40 percent of all electricity generated by SaskPower.  

“The trouble right now with our federal government – the goalposts continually shift,” Duncan said. “In the past, they have been cool to the idea of nuclear, now they are signalling that maybe they are going to be a little more supportive of nuclear. We always thought that natural gas was really going to be a transitional source until the 2050s, and then we would have to make some decisions beyond that point.” The Minister continued that the federal government’s regulatory changes will make it difficult for natural gas to be used for power generation beyond 2035. 

“Either the regulations have to change, like we have asked for, or frankly, the federal government is going to have to change.” 

Duncan added, “What we need in this province is just flexibility, and we are not getting that right now.”