It is about time the world sat up and took notice of Saskatchewan. Rarely does a historical polluter quietly turn into an unlikely candidate suddenly embracing the opportunity to lead the world in realizing a renewable energy future.
Countries like China, the US, and Brazil with the same type of resources as Saskatchewan could learn a few things from this quiet yet forward thinking Canadian province.
These lessons while wide-reaching, come down to having a future oriented utility enabled to change the status quo, effective government investment and planning, and policy that supports the establishment of the foundation for renewable generation.
The forward thinking utility leading the charge for Saskatchewan is the provincial supplier of electricity, public utility SaskPower. Serving almost 500,000 customers, SaskPower is one of the province's top employers with almost 2,500 permanent staff. The company manages $4.9 billion in generation, transmission, and distribution assets while operating three coal-fired power stations, seven hydroelectric stations, five natural gas stations, and two wind facilities.
For the first time in history, transitioning to a sustainable electricity system and a new operating model for SaskPower is no longer prohibited by lack of available technology. SaskPower has taken advantage of the opportunity and is standing out while bravely moving away from traditional carbon options by balancing its portfolio with financially viable alternative energy sources.
To push the boundaries of renewables, SaskPower, in partnership with Air Liquide Canada, Hitachi, Marubeni Canada, Babcock & Wilcox Canada, and Stantec, is currently undertaking a massive feasibility study on the design and engineering planning of a near-zero emission clean coal unit. This would be a first of its kind in the world and would be designed to use technology resulting in the capture of around 95% of the carbon dioxide that would typically be emitted. This equates to further possible reuse of existing fuel supplies and a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 1 million tones per year.
Where SaskPower has not had the resources available, it has had the foresight to develop further revenue-building partnerships around a long-term plan to create and maintain a sustainable energy supply that balances economic, environmental and social requirements. This forms part of an ingenious short-, medium-, and long-term action plan involving the people and economy it serves.
Supporting SaskPower's bold initiative is the Government of Saskatchewan. With an investment in over $500 million in sustainable and renewable energy projects, the government is quickly advancing the province's Green Strategy and Energy Climate Change Plan.
The government further backs using renewables to bridge the gap of loss over transmission lines in this expansive province. Government programs promote efficient use of electricity, closer to consumer renewable generation sources, and development of a mixed power portfolio with complimentary energy sources all equating to lower cost transitional measures contributing to a sustainable grid.
The government is also getting serious about further harnessing the power of the wind, a resource rich across Saskatchewan. Earlier this year, endorsed by the government, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corporation started the construction of the 26.4MW Red Lily Wind Project in the southeast of the province. With a capital investment of $67.5M, the project will consist of 16 wind turbine generators. Land rights have been secured for the second phase of the project, which will see an additional 106MW of generation come online. This is a huge step forward into wind power generation.
Existing wind farms in the province include Sunbridge and Cypress Wind Power Facility; both are located at Gull Lake and have a total capacity of roughly 11 MW. There is also the large SaskPower Centennial Wind Power Facility that has a capacity of 150 MW at Swift Current. This all supports the Canadian Wind Energy Association's strategy for nationwide wind power capacity by 2025 meeting 20% of the country's energy needs. Wind alone however will not build the steady base of level power Saskatchewan needs, a solid foundation for other types of renewable is required.
A Solid Foundation
Saskatchewan's Green Power Portfolio is now building a solid renewable foundation for this province. This includes an expansion of wind generation capability with an additional 100 MW by 2012, 50 MW of generation with the delivery of heat recovery projects, 20 MW of generation with the delivery of biomass forestry projects, and a reduction in overall electricity demand by 300 MW by 2017.
While the majority of energy across Canada is largely generated from water and hydrocarbons such as coal, natural gas, and oil, vast amounts of renewable energy resources exist at Saskatchewan's disposal beyond wind and includes solar, biomass, and geothermal options, which are planned to expand in use over the coming years. The province is also reported as having the best solar and wind resources available in the nation for which development plans are currently underway.
As SaskPower builds momentum with renewable energy projects, the government of Saskatchewan is simultaneously creating a growing industry for other players in the renewable market to improve the province's economy.
With companies like SaskPower modernizing and supporting the growth of the renewable industry while working with the government and local economy to realize a new future in energy, the momentum underway in Saskatchewan is beginning to position the province well to leave its heavy pollution history behind and achieving world first breakthroughs in sustainable energy supply that the rest of the world can learn from.