Letter to SaskPower President Regarding Solar Power

Here’s a letter going to the SaskPower President soon. If anyone has any suggestions for it, you have short time to make them.

Sundog

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.

http://www.saskpower.com/future/?linkid=fridge_future_power_banner_april2011#/technology-options

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.
http://www.saskpower.com/sustainable_growth/power_plan/generation_options/solar.shtml

“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.
Solar research
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.

Sincerely,
[Saskboy]

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.

Sincerely,
[Saskboy]

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

17 responses to “Letter to SaskPower President Regarding Solar Power

  1. Why would SaskPower want solar energy when it has easy access to filthy coal and Estevan citizens willing to breathe in the consequences?

    When provincial and federal governments are willing to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at an unproven technology, carbon capture and storage, why would SaskPower see any reason to change?

  2. Hey Saskboy,
    I came across your blog post regarding the letter you sent to Saskpower and I have a couple comments. I want to first say that I agree with you on a lot of things, but on others not so much. I definitely believe there is a huge problem brewing in the world but it is far from being black and white: which is how I feel you have presented it to Ms. May. Some of my concerns regarding your letter are below. Let me know what you think.

    I agree with you that it would be nice to see Solar more widely adopted and promoted within Saskpower. However, I can attest to their claim of the economics just not making sense. Yes, there are places in Spain that have solar power, but their electricity is also 27cents/kwh—whereas ours is 10cents. As for California, it is heavily subsidized. For solar to be competitive on a levelised cost of electricity basis, our electricity needs to increase above 16cents/kwh. Reason I know this is because I recently was part of a project where we profiled the LCOE of all different new power gen tech builds across Canada for all the different provinces taking into account financial, geographic and technical factors. Therefore, it isn’t so much an issue with Saskpower but with our government and the general population. Sure, we can deploy more renewables, but rate payers are going to see hikes on their electricity bills and this is far from the agenda and status quo of our conservative government.

    You are right when you mention that if some sort of Carbon Tax or cap and trade program is implemented in Saskatchewan that it will make the economics of Solar stronger and therefore those of fossil power generation weaker. However, with Saskpower being a crown corp and so heavily invested in facilities that have a large carbon footprint, I don’t foresee the government mandating any sort of program–at least within baseline emission limits that are justifiable in relation to the pollution that these large emitters are dissipating; I believe this despite “The Management and Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Act” and new “Saskatchewan Environmental Code”. This is my general opinion though, but I wouldn’t be TOTALLY surprised if we saw some sort of program pushed out over the next couple years or so. Here is what is on the stove right now if you aren’t already aware—which I am sure you are
    http://www.environment.gov.sk.ca/codereview

    (“Baseline Emission Level and Annual Return – applies to facilities whose greenhouse gas emissions are greater than 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. The purpose of this chapter is to establish measurement, reporting and verification requirements for calculating baseline emission level and annual inventories of greenhouse gas emissions. The baseline emission level established for a facility will determine the level by which a facility will have to reduce emissions each year. This reduction target will in turn establish the carbon compliance payment that a regulated emitter must pay if the greenhouse gas emissions do not meet the reduction target.”)

    I agree with you about climate change being a large problem—whoever doesn’t understand that seriously needs to get their head examined. With 97% of published scientists now stating that climate change is definitely human induced, I don’t see how people can neglect that. Having said that, the way Saskpower most likely looks at the situation is that they are only going to be building a couple small facilities in comparison to the rest of the world. In fact, only 2% of the total worlds greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to Canada. Of that 2%, Saskatchewan makes up a very small portion—notwithstanding that fact, we are a large emitter on a per capita basis. In fact, if Alberta and Saskatchewan were considered countries of themselves, they would be number 1 and number 3 in emissions per capita in the world (number 2 would be Australia). But Saskpower doesn’t care about that because by deploying more renewables over non-renewables they most likely feel that the positive impact will be too small and the negatives too large. Our electricity as consumers will increase and thus, our economy as a province will be damaged

    You state “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”. Do you have a source for this that is specific to Saskatchewan? Like I said before, I agree with you on this point for other countries but not necessarily Saskatchewan. Also, this is assuming that some sort of Carbon tax/cap and trade gets implemented in Saskatchewan.

    I agree when you say that Saskpower needs to step up and forget about their rates and focus more on the environment. But like I said before, they most likely feel that the problem is so wide scale that they are just a little fish in a small pond and would rather not implement changes and compromise their own food supply when others (China, India, US) aren’t following suit..

    I agree that renewable energy will be a key energy source in Saskatchewan—but not now. The economics don’t make sense and Saskpower most likely feels with natural gas being so cheap that going down that route along with CCS for coal facilities, is a better use of their investments.

    I am basically just playing devil’s advocate here. I would love to see more renewables deployed in Saskatchewan but I believe there is a reason why that isn’t happening—some good reasons others not so much. I think the best course of action is to lobby government to really push for the cap and trade program. If Saskpower is going to get onboard with renewables it really needs to be pushed through legislation.

    If you are interested in discussing this further let me know.

    Kind regards,
    -Scott

  3. Would love to talk more, I’m just swamped with covering RoboCon right now. If you don’t hear boo from me within a week, please shoot me another comment.

  4. No response yet from Mrs. May.

    Here’s a news release though that’s interesting:
    13/03/2012 10:45 AM >>>
    Today, the Government of Saskatchewan and Sask Power announced $3.5 million in funding for a new research chair at the University of Regina.

    The funding will be used to further research in clean energy technology. The University has a robust research program in clean energy development and a strong history of research success in this area, from carbon capture and storage to hydrogen production and the creation of innovative climate modeling systems.

    “Minister Norris’ announcement today for a new SaskPower Clean Energy Research Chair at the University of Regina is an excellent match with our demonstrated areas of expertise as well as the University’s strategic vision for future research endeavours,” said Dr. Dennis Fitzpatrick, Vice-President (Research). “Our talented researchers and students are helping move SaskPower and Saskatchewan forward as a leader in clean energy technologies.”

    For more information, please view the media release at http://www.uregina.ca

  5. Pingback: No Reply from SaskPower | Saskboy's Abandoned Stuff

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  8. Pingback: First Nations Get $0.3M for Solar Research #skpoli | Saskboy's Abandoned Stuff

  9. Pingback: Meantime, SaskPower Must Consider Solar #skpoli | John Klein - Regina

  10. Pingback: SaskPower Tries Utility Solar Finally | John Klein - Regina

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