Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.  For an informed reaction, see Brett Dolter’s article in Policy Options, “How Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy falls short”  (December 11).

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Saskatchewan backs CCS and Nuclear power in its Climate Change Plan

The White Paper on Climate Change released by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall on October 18  makes 13 recommendations in the hopes of redirecting the national conversation away from a national carbon pricing policy, as introduced by Prime Minister Trudeau on October 3. A CBC report headlined one of the proposals, to  “redeploy” $2.65 billion in federal funds for developing countries to invest in clean technologies,  but the real story is that Saskatchewan’s White Paper continues to  reject the national carbon pricing scheme, advocating instead for  innovative technology such as next-generation carbon capture and storage (CCS), and nuclear power.   The Climate Examiner from PICS provides a thorough summary of the White Paper   .  Climate Justice Saskatoon’s reaction calls for carbon pricing and technological solutions together,  and the Pembina Institute states that Premier Wall is out of step with climate reality by remaining outside the fold of provincial support for carbon pricing .

The  Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam Carbon Capture and Storage project which Premier Wall  holds up as his solution is the world’s first large-scale application of carbon capture technology in a power plant, according to a profile in the Smart Prosperity newsletter (October 13).  SaskWind, a community-owned wind and solar project,  released a report in March 2015  which concluded that Boundary Dam generated losses of over of $1-billion, which Saskatchewan’s  electricity consumers must pay for.  The Boundary Dam website provides its own statistics.

Carbon Capture and Storage – Canadian case studies, and a Labour view

The recent report Global Status of CCS 2015  by the Global CCS Institute provides a glowing overview of the technology, and profiles the Quest project near Edmonton  , as well as a link to an August 2015 report about the Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan . In October, the B.C. government introduced Bill 40, the Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2015, amending legislation which allows carbon capture and storage “as a permanent solution for disposing of carbon dioxide (CO2) in British Columbia”. Reference materials from the 2014 public consultations on CCS in B.C. are here  .

In a working paper published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, author Sean Sweeney writes that “CCS may have a place in the transition to a post-carbon world, but this place must be determined democratically, and by public need.”   Hard Facts about Coal: Why Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their support for Carbon Capture and Storage states that, whether intended or not, CCS can provide political cover for the ongoing and increasing use for coal.