A visit from the Task Force on the Just Transition for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities to Estevan on June 14 resulted in numerous meetings and plenty of discussion.
The task force met with representatives from local municipal councils, the Estevan Chamber of Commerce, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 7606, suppliers, affected workers and more during a visit to Estevan.
But the biggest crowd was reserved for a town hall-style meeting with the employees of the Westmoreland Coal Company’s Estevan mines, and SaskPower’s Boundary Dam and Shand Power Stations that attracted more than 100 people to the Beefeater Plaza.
Task force members were also in Regina on June 13, and Coronach on June 15.
The task force was announced by the federal government last month, in response to its plans to phase-out conventional coal power by 2030.
Jody Dukart, an international auditor/teller with UMWA, met with the task force in Regina and Estevan.
“The meetings were good, from the aspect of them reaching out to listen to us for what we could be transitioned to,” said Dukart. “But ultimately for us to transition to any other industry it’s going to be tough.”
Not only will they likely be making lower wages, but they likely won’t be union jobs, he said, and a majority of the affected workers would likely have to leave the Estevan area, which would affect real estate values in the city.
Dukart described the task force’s visit as a “reality check.” His message for the UMWA, though, is to keep fighting for the future of coal.
“We need to lead this fight,” said Dukart. “We need to start helping the provincial government to get that equivalency agreement through, and start pushing the federal government to start rethinking their decision on the phase-out of coal in 2030.”
He thought a task force should have been created to come to Estevan and Coronach regarding the future of clean coal technologies.
“We have the technology here. It just has to be expanded,” said Dukart. “I guess we’re not ready to accept either that they’re trying to phase out coal.”
The future of the carbon capture and storage (CCS) was not addressed, although task force members did tour the CCS facility at the Boundary Dam Power Station.
“At one time, we were the leading country, I felt, in clean coal technology, just because we had a plant up and running, and all these countries were coming to our country to see what we had and how they could adjust to it.”
Dukart believes Saskatchewan still needs the power that coal provides in the winter months.
Among the coal miners who spoke at the meeting was Dave Grass, a local coal miner. He applauded the task force for coming to Estevan to learn how this will affect miners, their families and their communities.
Grass noted that coal-fired power stations have an average lifespan of 40 yars and run throughout the year, providing reliable power.
“However, with the implementation of carbon taxes, federal regulations on emission levels and environmental policies, the playing field has been artiffically tipped in the renewable energy industries’ favour,” said Grass.
Grass also noted the advancements that have been made in CCS, and the benefits associated with the technology.
“Within our mining industry, great strides have been taken to protect our environment,” said Grass. “We have diverted production for the sake of one nesting burrowing owl, halted another dragline for bids nesting near the equipment, stopped production in an area due to Indigenous teepee rings discovered,” said Grass.
Harold Matthews, the vice-president of power for SaskPower, was there each day. He said the Crown corporation was pleased the task force came to Estevan to discuss the impacts if coal mining were to end.
He was also impressed with the composition of the committee, with representatives of several different unions.
SaskPower wanted the task force to understand the number of employees who would be directly affected, and the number of people indirectly impacted, including contractors.
They also discussed the value of coal in the fleet, particularly from a baseload perspective, and how carbon capture and storage supports SaskPower’s strategy for renewables.
“We had quite a talk about carbon capture, and the possibilities around carbon capture and the CCS strategy,” Matthews said.
And there were discussions on how the loss of coal would affect ratepayers.
If coal is taken out of the power generation chain, it would eliminate the source of about 40 per cent of Saskatchewan’s electricity.
In the case of the Shand Power Station, for example, it would accelerate retirement, making it a stranded asset.
“You have a lot of money tied up in the asset that we can’t recover,” said Matthews.
Souris-Moose Mountain MP Robert Kitchen said he was pleased the Task Force came to Estevan and Coronach and talked to workers and others who would be affected.
He attended meetings in Estevan and Coronach to listen to the comments and to address the task force.
“As I’ve indicated, and as I’ve said all along, this is going to have a major impact on the workers of the mines and the workers of the power plants. No doubt about it. The families will be impacted. The communities will be impacted. The suppliers are going to be impacted.”
But he said he was disappointed with communication regarding the visit. He found out through another source that the task force would be coming.
Affected MPs will now be invited to the meetings.
Kitchen said he was very proud to hear people who attended the meeting standing up for their jobs, rather than asking for a buyout or a handout.
“They were asking (the task force) to take back to the government to not buy us out, find a way to get us these jobs and to keep these jobs. They want to work, and I’m so proud to know that that’s what my constituents are looking for.”
He also hopes the task force will remind the government that CCS is green, viable and innovative.
For more on the task force, see Page A7.