An Irrational Mixup at SaskPower

Ten years ago, SaskPower was spending money to promote education about Climate Change.

The poster contest is an important component of our efforts to educate the public about the climate change issue. There are increasing concerns that human activity – such as the burning of coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity – contributes to climate change, which has been associated with increased risk of droughts, heat waves and storms.

Yet a decade later its CEO and President, Robert Watson, has written the Star Phoenix dismissing a good question from a Saskatoon Community Wind representative, James Glennie, to meaningfully reduce pollution. Why isn’t SaskPower investing heavily in distributed power generation from renewable sources like wind, and solar thermal and photovoltaic? Our coal-burning crown corporation last year on its website was citing a study into solar power, conducted in the year 2000, to dismiss solar as a viable commercial power generation option. It sounded suspiciously similar to Mr. Watson’s excuses given to Mr. Glennie’s good ideas. We know technology has changed significantly since 2000, not only in computers, but in solar panels and solar thermal. Saskatchewan home owners installing net metered solar arrays, now expect to make profit on their investments, in as few as ten years pay-back time.

Instead of giving ‘Can’t-Do’ excuses for why it’s more difficult to use solar and wind in Saskatchewan’s tough climate, our crown corporation’s CEO could co-opt can-do direction from Saskatchewan people, and develop renewable energy technology right here. We can sell those adaptations abroad to other places with harsh, sunny Winters. I’m also not pleased with a SaskPower VP telling me last year, there’s a high cost for “utilities in the Northern Hemisphere” to use solar. Have they not seen what Germany, Spain, Ontario, California, and other utilities in our hemisphere are investing in? Every American border station has a large solar power installation because it’s “a high cost”? I don’t think so. Judging by SaskPower’s President’s remarks in the paper, innovation and change will come from the bottom up.

Below is a re-write of Mr. Watson’s letter to the editor, which cuts through the BS.

I’d like to provide additional information on SaskPower’s plans for a power generation mix that has served to make Saskatchewan, Canada’s worst per-capita air polluter.

Unlike fossil fuel sources, which can produce power and greenhouse gas constantly, wind and solar are not sources of greenhouse gases (i.e. they don’t cause climate change) and can meet our day-to-day requirements if we change how we use electricity. We can keep fossil fuels as emergency backup only.

Wind power is intermittent and cannot be effectively stored without innovation SaskPower is not willing or able to provide. Our province’s wind conditions allow for turbines to generate electricity nearly 40 per cent of the time, which is as much time in the day as you might directly need immediate electricity. They do not produce greenhouse gas or smog, which makes them safer than coal plants. We don’t paint windmills black to naturally heat them, so when it’s too cold outside we shut them down and lose potential generation revenue.

Solar power, in various forms, is suitable for widespread generation in Saskatchewan because the technology has improved immensely and is set to become cheaper than coal within the life-span of many coal turbines already built.

SaskPower will continue to ignore innovation so it has to invest less in retraining engineers who are really good at operating coal turbines and conventional grids, but don’t seem to have a sniff about how to create a distributed smart grid of renewable energy with a fossil fuel backup system.

Now, the real, depressing letter:

A rational mix
Robert Watson, Letter to the The Starphoenix
Published: Saturday, August 31, 2013

In response to James Glennie’s letter Blown opportunity (SP, Aug. 26), I’d like to provide additional information on SaskPower’s plans for a power generation mix that will serve Saskatchewan today and into the future.

Unlike geothermal sources, which can produce power constantly, wind and solar are not sources of baseload power (i.e. stable, constant) and cannot meet our day-today requirements due to the unpredictable nature of the source.

Wind power is intermittent and cannot be effectively stored for future use. Our province’s wind conditions allow for turbines to generate electricity nearly 40 per cent of the time. They do not produce when there is too little or too much wind (for safety reasons) or it’s too cold outside.

Solar power is not suitable for large-scale generation in Saskatchewan because of its high cost and low capacity factors.

There is certainly a place for these power sources in our generation mix – Sask-Power currently has approximately 200 megawatts of wind power, enough to power 86,500 homes. By 2017, we will have doubled our wind capacity with the installation of a new facility near Chaplain and other projects with independent power producers.

Solar power is best suited for small-scale operations and SaskPower does offer programs to encourage this.

SaskPower will continue looking at every option to ensure the future includes reliable, sustainable and affordable power.

Robert Watson
SaskPower president and CEO

And here’s the letter that kicked things off:

Blown opportunity

By James Glennie, The Starphoenix August 26, 2013

I read with interest the article, Geothermal study gets SaskPower funding (SP, Aug. 20) and think it’s admirable that SaskPower is using ratepayer funds to investigate expensive new technologies such as DEEP. One might add to these costs the $1.2-billion, carbon capture scheme at Boundary Dam.

One wonders, however, whether Saskatchewan’s long-suffering ratepayers might be better served by an analysis of technologies that can achieve the same thing at much lower cost. For instance, why is $2 million being spent to investigate a technology that is

hugely expensive and buried three kilometres below the earth, when Saskatchewan has one of the best wind and solar resources in North America? No digging required and no carbon emissions.

Very detailed and highly sophisticated electrical studies have been carried out in numerous jurisdictions worldwide that show wind and solar can reliably and economically provide 25 per cent of total electricity demand on an integrated and modern electricity system. At the same time these clean, renewable technologies have minimal technological risk, enjoy overwhelming public support and can provide massive rural economic stimulus – vital for numerous small towns struggling with lack of jobs and depopulation.

Yet despite this overwhelming body of evidence SaskPower insists that wind and, one presumes, solar will never provide more than five per cent of Saskatchewan’s electricity.

Perhaps DEEP’s $2 million would have been better spent on an independent electrical study which sets out to solve the perplexing riddle of why it is that electrons behave so differently in this corner of the universe?

James Glennie

Saskatoon Community Wind

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7 responses to “An Irrational Mixup at SaskPower

  1. http://www.leaderpost.com/opinion/letters/Coal+wrong+fuel+SaskPower/9234818/story.html
    “Coal the wrong fuel for SaskPower
    By Michael McKinlay, The Leader-Post December 2, 2013

    Recently, SaskPower CEO Robert Watson stated that Saskatchewan is “sitting on a 300-year supply” of coal and thus coal will be used as a major energy source well into the future.

    This is dangerous and complacent thinking. Coal is an extremely dirty fuel, creating large amounts of carbon dioxide, as well as other toxic emissions. Take a look at a country like China, and you can see how bad coal really is.

    The world is moving away from coal and Ontario just became the first province/state in North America to completely eliminate coal as an energy source. Coal is on its way out, and for good reason.

    Electrical consumption is increasing in Saskatchewan and new power generation capacity must be built. Saskatchewan should use its proven, abundant, and high-quality wind resource.

    Southern Saskatchewan is also sparsely populated, providing many great sites for wind farms. Farmers and rural municipalities could use the extra income and taxes provided by land rents to generate further economic development.

    Wind energy development has proven extremely successful in southern and eastern Alberta and continues to grow. If wind works in Alberta, why not in Saskatchewan? Another side benefit of wind farms is that they have the capability to improve grid stability, which happens to be a $1-billion issue currently facing SaskPower.

    Wind turbine prices have dramatically dropped, and are very cost competitive with new gas and coal plants. Wind is 100-per-cent clean, unlimited, and free.

    Let’s invest in Saskatchewan and use this natural gift.

    Michael McKinlay

    Regina

  2. Pingback: 300 Years Is Bogus | Saskboy's Abandoned Stuff

  3. Pingback: 300 Years Is Bogus | Liblogs

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