We’re creating a better environment with CCS

One of the highlights of my 19 years in Estevan came in October 2014, with the grand opening of the carbon capture and storage facility at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam Power Station.

Delegates from around the world came to Estevan, and to Boundary Dam, to see this technological, environmental and scientific marvel. It was a marvel back then, and it’s a marvel now. It was the first facility of its kind in the world, a project that would keep a baseload power source like coal in the electrical generation mix.

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Brian Zinchuk, the editor for Pipeline News and a columnist for papers that includes the Estevan Mercury, put it best when he said “It’s not every day you change the world.”

A couple of weeks later, another delegation went through Boundary Dam. They marvelled at the technology, too. I even had the opportunity to interview Veselko Grubišić, the Croatian ambassador to Canada, who was part of that tour. He referred to it as “The Mount Everest of technology.”

It’s been a little more than five years since the opening of the CCS facility at Boundary Dam.

And this facility just passed a milestone on Monday: more than three million tonnes of carbon dioxide have been captured through CCS since it opened. That’s more than three million tonnes of CO2 that didn’t enter the environment. More than three million tonnes of CO2 has injected into the ground so it can be used for enhanced oil recovery.

SaskPower will say that the amount of CO2 captured is equivalent to 750,000 cars being taken off the road. Not sure how that is calculated. But it sounds pretty good.

And they also noted that there hasn’t been a lost-time accident on the job at the CCS facility since construction began in the spring of 2011. And that’s really impressive.

This is a project that has carried environmental and economic benefits. You can’t say that about every power generation project.

It has given a new lease on life on a power generation unit that would have been forced to come offline by now without a CCS retrofit. If not for CCS technology, jobs would have been lost.

There have been tough times for CCS at Boundary. There have been shutdowns, both planned and unexpected. Unit 3 was knocked down for nearly three months last year due to damage caused by a powerful storm; when Unit 3 is down, the CCS facility isn’t functioning due to the link between the two sites.

But some of the other shutdowns have been due to malfunctions and outages. These have been far less common in recent years, meaning that the facility has been online on a more regular basis, and the technology has been doing what it’s supposed to: reducing emissions.

The critics of CCS were sharpening the knives early on, but those criticisms have been reduced once they have realized that it works, it provides baseload power, it benefits the environment and the sequestered CO2 generates revenue.

You’ll always have critics of CCS. That’s what happens when you have a technology that keeps coal-fired power generation in the mix, and also creates a product that’s used by the energy sector. The earth muffins reject CCS technology on principle.

I hope the government has plans to further roll out CCS technology. Expand it to the Shand Power Station. Retrofit Unit 6 at Boundary Dam, too. Extend the life of these two facilities by decades, keep this reliable baseload power option in the mix and help the environment as well.

If they’re able to retrofit the Poplar River Power Station at Coronach, then that’s a bonus.

It’s too late for Units 4 and 5 at Boundary Dam. The provincial government has said they’re going to be retired in the next few years as the government moves towards natural gas, even though the price of natural gas is far more unstable than coal.

It might be more affordable to go with natural gas now, but that might not be the case in a few years, especially after the federal carbon tax is applied to it.

I still think the government missed an opportunity when they decided that Units 4 and 5 would be mothballed. They should have retrofitted those two units as well, to show the world how far the technology has come since Unit 4 came online, to show that they have moved forward from the issues Unit 3 had early on, and to capture even more CO2.

A fleet of units with CCS technology, completed before the end of the next decade, would also allow Saskatchewan to keep coal in the power mix, regardless of when the federal government decrees conventional coal-fired power is finished. 

If the government doesn’t move forward with retrofitting other units, then Unit 3 at Boundary Dam will be a billion dollar stand-alone.

But to have three units in the Estevan area with CCS technology would be a demonstration that CCS technology is proven, can keep coal-fired power alive and can do it all while creating a better environment.

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