We know that the carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Power Station is a marvel. But sometimes those outside of the southeast need a reminder.
The world-leading CCS facility attained another milestone last week when it reached four million tonnes of captured carbon dioxide (CO2). If you crunch the numbers, it’s more than 51,000 tonnes of CO2 a month in the 78 months that it’s been operating.
In environmental circles, they talk a lot about taking an equivalent number of vehicles off the road. Well, four million tonnes of CO2 is equivalent to a lot of vehicles.
The CCS facility has not just meant a lot to our community, but it’s meant a lot to the environment.
It hasn’t always been an easy road for SaskPower or for the Boundary Dam CCS project. For starters, it’s not easy when you change the world. It’s not easy when you try to be the first at something. It’s a lot easier when you take an existing, proven concept and add it to your power generation fleet.
Once it came online in October 2014, the CCS facility had challenges. It spent a lot of time offline due to the bugs that had to be worked out with its technology and innovation. When it was online, it worked. But there were changes that had to be made.
And there are adaptations that continue to be made as SaskPower looks for ways to improve efficiency.
It is worth noting that it’s been online at least 80 per cent of the time eight of the past 13 months. When it hasn’t been online, it’s usually due to a scheduled shutdown.
This is a project that’s going to be a lightning rod for criticism in some circles, because it uses coal as a power source, and the captured carbon dioxide is then sold to oilfield companies to be used in enhanced oil recovery efforts. Even if the CCS facility was online 100 per cent of the time, and it never required a shutdown, and it captured a million tonnes of CO2 a year, it would have its critics because of its connections to coal and the oilfield.
Coal-fired power generation using CCS needs to remain part of Saskatchewan’s power production fleet. For starters, if we don’t further invest in CCS, then we essentially have a billion-dollar stand-alone at one of our coal-fired power plants. And a coal mining company isn’t going to spend all the money it takes to mine that coal for one solitary unit.
Further investment into CCS elsewhere in the Estevan area is needed to keep Unit 3 going.
Coal is still our best bet for baseload power. Conventional and compliant coal power’s days are numbered. But when you can mine the coal, apply some sort of technology to eliminate the emissions, you get the option to keep coal going.
Natural gas doesn’t provide the same level of cost reliability as coal. If the forecasts are true and natural gas is going to finally experience a price increase, then that will impact natural gas’ competitiveness.
As for renewables, we know that solar and wind aren’t at the point, yet, where they can be a baseload power option.
I take a keen interest in the reports on the CCS facility that SaskPower files each month. I’m excited when I see numbers like February, when CCS was online 96 per cent of the time, and captured 67,699 tonnes. And I’m disappointed when it doesn’t have a good month, in part because I know the critics will use the numbers as ammunition. (They usually won’t mention the good months, which now vastly outnumber the bad).
And I’m very happy to see the CCS facility eclipse milestones such as four million tonnes of captured CO2.
I look forward to when we hit five million. I hope that the Shand Power Station and Unit 6 at the Boundary Dam Power Station will be retrofitted with CCS technology, giving them the chance to hit milestones and further develop the CCS story in Estevan.
I hope famed American entrepreneur and innovator Elon Musk will come to Estevan, view our CCS facility, see how effective it can be, and take what he learns and apply it to his quest to support a great CCS project.
And I want to see people recognize how CCS can make a better environment.