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).

Alberta reinvesting carbon levy revenues in clean energy programs

cropped-worksolar.jpgAlberta announced  a new Residential and Commercial Solar rebate program  on February 27, funded with $36 million from revenues from the province’s carbon levy. The government estimates that the program will stimulate up to 900 jobs in the solar sector, while reducing GHG emissions and cutting installation costs for residences by 30 per cent and  for businesses and non-profits by 25 per cent.  In combination with a December 2016  change to the  Micro-generation Regulation ,  which increased the allowable capacity of  micro-generation systems to five megawatts, the rebate program  is meant especially to encourage solar commercial  and community operations .  The Pembina Institute reaction    highlights the aspect of microgeneration and distributed energy; DeSmog Blog   gives more details and context about the overall growth of solar in Alberta. Iron and Earth , the workers’ organization promoting the transition from oil and gas to renewables, calls the announcement a “great first step” on their Facebook page   , and notes their previous call to the Alberta government for increased access to solar skills training programs.

smart-thermostatOn  Febrary 28,  the government issued an invitation for Albertans to register for a Residential No-Charge Energy Savings Program   ,  encouraging all households, regardless of income, to upgrade to more energy-efficient products, including LED lights, high efficiency shower heads, and smart thermostats. Installation and product costs will be borne by the province and financed, again, through carbon levy revenues.

Finally, on March 3, Alberta announced matched funding of $10 million from the province and the federal government for a Calgary-based Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre (ACCTC) .  The facility will “test breakthrough technologies that convert CO2 from harmful emissions into applications for everyday use.”  It will be owned and operated by InnoTech Alberta   , a subsidiary of Alberta Innovates; the goal is to support “Alberta-based technology developers, as well as attracting global companies and world-class researchers to the province”.  The Pembina Institute calls it “a plug and play technology sandbox”  and “an excellent way to create partnerships and accelerate our learning with respect to new technologies, in order to develop emissions solutions and create economic opportunities.” The Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance also approves.  The investment follows a February 13 meeting to expand and renew the Alberta – Canada Collaboratory on Clean Energy Research and Technology Memorandum of Understanding.

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.

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.

50% Clean Power by 2025: 3 Amigos Summit sets tone of international cooperation

3 amigos waving.jpgOn June 29, 2016 the Three Amigos – the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S.,  issued a  “North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan”   , summarized by Clean Energy Canada here .  The Plan sets a target of 50 per cent clean power generation by 2025 for North America – with “clean” including energy from nuclear, fossil fuels if produced with carbon capture and storage technologies, and improvements in energy efficiency. The Plan also calls a for shared vision for a clean North American automotive sector, including harmonized regulations, and for collaboration on cross-border electricity transmission projects, specifically naming the Great Northern Transmission Line, ( Manitoba to Minnesota), and the New England Clean Power Link, (Quebec to Vermont). The recent Brexit vote loomed large over the leaders’ meetings; as  the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis stated: “As Europe is disintegrating, North America is integrating, and it’s integrating in a way that I think provides real and substantive and tangible benefits to the citizens of the three countries.” In a similar vein, Inside Climate News verdict was, “Whatever their respective individual contributions, the three nations’ vow to work in concert is what most excites advocates of strong climate action. And the possibility of a common price on carbon. ”

What might excite advocates of Just Transition for workers is the final statement of the joint press release , which pledges to:  “Invest strategically in communities to help them diversify economies, create and sustain quality jobs, and share in the benefits of a clean energy economy. This includes promoting decent work, sharing best practices, and collaborating with social partners such as workers’ and employers’ organizations and nongovernmental organizations on just transition strategies that will benefit workers and their communities….Protect the fundamental principles and rights at work of workers who extract and refine fossil fuels, and who manufacture, install, and operate energy technologies.”

A group of economic think tanks, including Pembina Institute, Canada 2020, and the World Resources Institute collaborated on Proposals for a North American Climate Strategy   in advance of the Summit meetings. Their recommendations are mostly recognized,if not resolved:  “.. . the United States, Canada, and Mexico should consider the cost of carbon in long-term decision-making; commit to a methane reduction goal and cooperate to reduce black carbon; coordinate their leadership efforts in international forums; work to ensure effective carbon pricing throughout the continent; collaborate to accelerate the shift to clean energy; develop a North American strategy for sustainable transportation; work to strengthen resilience and equity in a changing climate; and develop a coordinated forest and land use strategy.”    For some reaction, see “Dirty or Clean, politics drive cross-border energy deals”    in the Globe and Mail (July 4) , or “ Steering toward a North American electric auto pact ”   in  Policy Options  (August) .  And from the Montreal Gazette, an Opinion piece to bring things back to earth: “After the Three Amigos summit, Canada has work to do on carbon pricing”  .