News / Canada

Saskatchewan reaches deal with Ottawa on future of coal-fired power plants

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speaks during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Friday, November 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna speaks during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Friday, November 4, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

REGINA — Saskatchewan says it has reached a deal with Ottawa that will allow the province to keep using coal-fired power plants in "a responsible manner" beyond 2030.

The agreement will allow the province to meet federal emission requirements on an electricity system-wide basis as opposed to regulation of every coal-fired plant.

"It's quite possible that we'll be operating some unabated coal with this agreement past 2030 ... some coal without carbon capture and storage past 2030," Saskatchewan Environment Minister Scott Moe said Monday at the legislature.

Saskatchewan was fired up when Ottawa announced last week that provinces will have to phase out coal entirely and replace it with lower-emitting sources by 2030 or use carbon capture and storage technology.

Moe said at the time that the federal government should recognize work the province has already done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Saskatchewan uses carbon capture at one of its coal-fired power plants.

"We now have recognition from the federal government that our investments and the carbon that has been captured, for example, by carbon capture and storage, is now part of the agreement in principle," he said.

The deal also acknowledges the province's move to 50 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030, he said.

Keith Stewart, head of the climate and energy campaign at Greenpeace, says if the agreement means Saskatchewan continues with what it was already intending to do, then "that's a big blow to the federal coal phase-out plan."

"If Saskatchewan is still running old fired-coal plants after 2030, then the federal plan essentially has no teeth," said Stewart.

He pointed out that Ontario has already phased out coal and Alberta has committed to do so as well.

Almost 50 per cent of the electricity generated in Saskatchewan uses coal as a fuel source, but coal-fired units are among the largest sources of air pollution in the country.

"The federal minister was very clear when she did her coal phase-out announcement, which was no traditional coal plants operating after 2030, and Saskatchewan is the one big player left with a significant amount of coal planned," Keith said. "If this doesn't apply to them, then what's the point of a federal regulation?"

Saskatchewan has seven coal-fired plants at three facilities.

The province opened a $1.5-billion carbon-capture facility near Estevan in October 2014, but hasn't made a decision about installing the technology at other plants.

SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh says the equivalency agreement gives his Crown utility flexibility to operate its whole fleet, but it still has to meet equivalent CO2 reductions.

"In other words, when a unit is due for retirement, they have to be either retired or cleaned up to that new standard," said Marsh.

"We still have to meet those, so the pressure is on to reduce CO2 emissions. We're going to do that."