Here’s a letter going to the SaskPower President soon. If anyone has any suggestions for it, you have short time to make them.
rwatson at ]saskpower.com[
Dear Mr. Watson,
I’ve found some troubling information on the SaskPower website. The first link is troubling because of what it leaves out. Solar energy, perhaps the best potential generation source of intermittent electricity, is not even considered? There’s Photo Voltaic cells, solar power towers that operate with mirrors to generate heat, and net metered PV installations in operation today, and they aren’t mentioned as a consideration for generation options? That’s quite a gaping omission. I have a couple important requests listed at the bottom of this email, to address my concerns.
This second link I found troubling because perhaps it explains why solar energy was omitted. The antiquated summary provided for PV (no mention of solar power towers), is from Y2K, a dozen years ago! Solar power technology has advanced since then, as I’m sure you must know.
“Solar converts the energy from the sun into electricity. At present, solar power is not suitable for large-scale generation in Saskatchewan because of its high cost and low capacity factors.
In 2000, we installed a photovoltaic array at the Saskatchewan Science Centre for research purposes. Results showed that the cost savings realized from the solar energy system cannot effectively offset the capital costs for installation. As a result, this technology is better suited to niche applications where connection to the grid is uneconomical or when passive solar enhancement is desired. For the purposes of scientific demonstration, this project continues to be in operation.”
A useful analogy of this summary is akin to saying in 2000 that full screen, smooth streaming video is not possible over the Internet. Now you can get that in your pocket on your smartphone, 12 years later. I request that you update your website with more recent facts regarding the two main forms of solar electricity (PV and heat-towers). If SaskPower does not have current research on these, I also request that you see that it happens soon, lest our province be left the laughing stock with our coal-fired electricity. And I’m interested to know if this gap in research and communication extends to the people in charge of moving SaskPower away from energy sources that are greatly harming our environment and survivability.
cc. Honourable Rob Norris
Honourable Tim McMillian
UPDATE Feb. 24 & again May 2nd 2012:
SaskPower VP May responded about a week later. She hasn’t respond to my followup letter, nor did my MLA Hutchinson so I’m now including her verbatim response so others can see why I made the followup points I did.
Dear Mr. [Saskboy]
Thank you for your insightful comments with regard to solar technology. Mr. Watson has asked that I reply back to you on his behalf.
When it comes to using solar as an electricity generation option, even in Saskatchewan where we enjoy a fair amount of sunshine, it’s largely a matter of geography and economics. By and large, utility industry experts agree that when compared to other renewable sources solar is a high cost generation option for utilities in the Northern Hemisphere.
When exploring generation options, our system planners evaluate all potential sources based on cost, social and environmental impacts, and the feasibility of incorporating each of these options into the electricity grid. As Saskatchewan’s Crown electrical utility our objective is to make decisions on behalf of all ratepayers based on the best balance of reliability, sustainability and cost.
Our system planners continue to diligently monitor developments in solar technology. Should large-scale solar installations become more economical we will consider them at that time.
Meantime, SaskPower has programs available to encourage the development of environmentally preferred technologies, including solar. Our Green Options Partners Program, Small Power Producers’ and Net Metering Programs are designed to support our province’s independent power producers (those who wish to self-generate electricity) to develop small and medium sized power projects using environmentally friendly sources. You can find out more about these programs at the following link on our web site: http://www.saskpower.com/sustainable_growth/generate_move_power/
We are currently in the process of conducting our annual review of the Green Options Partners Program. As part of this review we are taking a hard look at how we can encourage the development of a small-scale solar project. We’ll be announcing our decision publicly once the review is complete.
With regard to your last point, our summary of the solar demonstration project at the Saskatchewan Science Center in Regina, this information was verified at the time of publication. It is not SaskPower’s intention to have outdated or misleading information available; we thank you for your input and will review this information to ensure it accurately reflects the state of development with regard to solar technology.
Thank you again for your comments.
Judith A. (Judy) May
Vice-President, Corporate Relations
Here is my response to her:
Dear Mrs. May:
Thank-you for your response. I look forward to your website being updated with current information about solar power, especially mention of the Net Metering generation option presently missing from the pages I cited in my earlier email. While I welcome the Net Metering program, I find it disappointing that new installations of that sort are going in at a pace that would take thousands of years to convert all residential customers. It’s also odd that your site states SaskPower thinks solar is best for isolated, off grid installations, while simultaneously promoting Net Metering which is grid connected.
However, I must disagree with your statement that industry experts largely discount solar’s viability due to cost and geography. That’s demonstrably out of date thinking. If it were the case, there would not be commercial solar power towers in operation today in Spain and California (northern hemisphere). I’ve spoken with an expert at SaskPower in fact who’s told me that solar power has in the last 2 years for small PV installations, have gone from about a 19 year breakeven point, down to just 10 years. Further cost cuts are still expected by experts, giving solar a definite economic edge over coal and nuclear. The time to consider solar, has arrived. Considering the un-insurable nature of nuclear plants, and the expected (unaffordable) carbon pricing to be placed on any new coal plants (within their lifetime), solar meets at least 2 of your three criteria (reliability, sustainability and cost).
As for the reliability point, I implore your company to consider the social and environmental costs more heavily than SaskPower has done so to this point. (CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility is lagging to this point.) The other factors are really moot if SaskPower is forced to pay unaffordable carbon taxes during the life of new expensive central generation facilities based on fossil fuel, and/or those plants cause runaway climate change. Scientific experts largely agree that is certain to occur if we continue building fossil fuel electricity plants worldwide over the next 4 years. Coal power is also directly attributable to poor air quality that kills Canadians each year. Choosing coal when a non-air-polluting method is technically feasible, seems to be putting price before lives. I find this doubly frustrating, because experts know the life-cycle cost of alternatives to coal are going to be less expensive than coal, during the lifetime of new coal burning facilities.
You have the power to set SaskPower on a new, and better course, and I remind you that your responsibility to ratepayers’s pocketbooks is necessarily exceeded by your responsibility to not cause the irreparable degradation of the environment they rely on to survive. Any way you look at it, solar is going to be a key renewable energy source for Saskatchewan, as we have no tidal or volcanic energy, and some hydro that may even dry up some decade due to climate change.
As I, and a great many experts I’ve learned from, have pointed out there are great benefits from incorporating renewable energy quickly into our grid, before we invest more in fossil fuels. For instance, solar power reaches peak production at the same time that demand for air conditioning power peaks due to hot sunny days. The experts who’ve discouraged your enthusiasm for solar energy are working with out of date information, or possibly have a stake in seeing the fossil fuel industry be preserved past its obvious expiration date. Staying with the devil we know (coal), is not going to make Saskatchewan a world leader in any category we wish to stay in.
P.S. I would like to share your responses so more people know SaskPower’s position on the subject of solar. May I please have your permission to do that?
And if you, and your advisers, have difficulty confirming the facts I’ve presented, I’d be happy to provide reference sources at your request.
CC My MLA, Minister Hutchinson