Coal is used to provide power around the globe — it’s a non-renewable energy source that generates approximately 40 per cent of the world’s electricity.
Almost 50 per cent of the electricity generated in the province uses coal as a fuel source. We have lots of coal in Saskatchewan, and it’s cheaper than using other fossil fuels in our power plants. The technology behind coal plants, which operate 24/7, is well-developed and extremely reliable.
We currently have three coal-fired plants in two Saskatchewan communities:
- Boundary Dam Power Station (Estevan)
- Shand Power Station (Estevan)
- Poplar River Power Station (Coronach)
There's been a steady increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s. As the world’s population increases, and developing countries continue to industrialize and increase their standard of living, CO2 emissions will continue to grow.
In Saskatchewan, coal accounts for 44 per cent of our fuel and produces 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
In 2011, the federal government announced strict performance standards for new coal-fired units and units that have reached the end of their useful life. These regulations are expected to result in a reduction of GHG emissions in Canada of about 214 megatonnes — equal to taking 2.6 million personal vehicles off the road per year.
Unless we find a cleaner way of doing it, we can’t use coal.
Our homes and businesses need baseload power, which is power we can use all day, every day.
Wind and solar can only provide power part of the time because wind conditions have to be just right and the sun only shines part of the day. In Saskatchewan, wind turbines can produce power to meet our needs 40 per cent of the time, and our climate and geography make solar power, which could meet our needs up to 15 per cent of the time, an expensive option.
Hydro power is another option that provides baseload power. While there are low operating costs associated with hydro, it comes with high construction costs. Saskatchewan’s flat landscape and lack of major rivers limits the opportunities for hydro.
Replacing coal would be a challenge. The loss of coal would not only cripple our ability to supply the province with the power that our lives demand, but would also have a severe economic impact on Estevan and Coronach as the coal-fired plants in those communities would need to shut down.
Why carbon capture?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) allows us to reduce emissions and still use coal as a fuel source.
The first carbon storage project dates back to 1979, and many projects since then have successfully stored CO2 underground for more than 30 years. This includes Saskatchewan’s own Weyburn-Midale project, which began in 2000.
Our carbon capture project at Boundary Dam is not the first, nor will it be the last, that will use carbon capture, transportation and storage technology. What makes our project unique is the scale — it’s the first commercial-scale CCS project of its kind in the world.
The future is now
The launch of our carbon capture project on Oct. 2, 2014, means we have extended the life of an aging coal unit by decades. It also allows us to continue producing affordable power by dramatically reducing the sulphur dioxide (SO2) and CO2 that a coal-fired unit usually releases.
This project has allowed us to:
- Produce at least 110 megawatts (MW) of power, which is approximately enough to power 100,000 Saskatchewan homes;
- Reduce the SO2 emissions from the coal process by 100 per cent and the CO2 by at least 90 per cent; and
- Capture more than 1,400,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, which is the same as taking 350,000 cars off our roads.
Through the Boundary Dam project and our continuing CCS research, we will keep finding ways to build projects using fewer dollars and less time — that’s why the world is watching.
Our CCS project has hosted groups from Hitachi in Japan, the U.K. government, European electrical giant Vattenfall, and many media outlets, including the New York Times. We’ve even partnered with Vattenfall to share CCS breakthroughs from North America and Europe, which will allow us to move forward with our research even faster.
CCS is a big part of our power future in Saskatchewan, and around the world.