Proposed federal clean power grid regulations unfeasible for Sask., Duncan says

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The Saskatchewan government is calling potential federal power grid regulations unfeasible within the required timeline, instead preferring to follow its own plan to overhaul electricity in the province.

Ottawa drafted its clean electricity regulations — part of its climate change plan — and was collecting feedback on them until earlier this month. The Saskatchewan government wrote to Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault, stressing that the federal government is overstepping and that its regulations, as written, will be costly for Saskatchewan and lead to a less reliable grid.

“It’s not a debate about the goal — it’s a debate about the timelines and how quickly we can get there,” said Dustin Duncan, Saskatchewan’s minister responsible for Crown corporations, including SaskPower, during a news conference Tuesday.

“The regulations just are impossible for what they’re trying to achieve in Saskatchewan.”

The proposed clean electricity regulations, first released last summer, aim to create net-zero emission electrical grids across Canada by 2035. The regulations are part of the federal government’s larger emissions goals, including achieving overall net zero by 2050.

The regulations, in particular, will try to minimize emissions from the power sector by 2035, while ensuring electricity is still affordable and reliable for Canadians, according to the federal government’s website.

The regulations provide some flexibility, but they would force power utilities to shift to greener energy sources and significantly cut emissions to meet a performance standard — 30 tonnes of CO2 per gigawatt hour, “as measured on an annual average basis,” according to the website.

Similar regulations have been released in other Group of Seven countries such as the United States, and it’s an economic opportunity Canada “cannot afford to miss,” a spokesperson for the federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change told CBC News in an email.

The draft regulations give more than a decade of cushion to “attract investment and adjust decision-making,” the spokesperson said.

The federal government’s deadline to submit feedback was Nov. 2. The final version of the regulations will be published sometime next year, the government’s website says.

Duncan wrote a letter to Guilbeault, dated Nov. 2, arguing the regulations as written infringe on the province’s constitutional jurisdiction of electrical energy, dictating how the grids in each province need to operate within less than 12 years.

Read Duncan’s letter to Guilbeault: 

The provincial government estimates overhauling the system, per the proposed regulations, would cost Saskatchewan about $40 billion, the letter said.

SaskPower forecasts its rates would have to more than double and many people’s jobs could be at risk, the letter said.

Duncan previously raised affordability concerns in August, when Guilbeault revealed the proposed regulations. At the time, local industry experts who spoke with CBC News disputed those claims, suggesting the required transition is feasible.

Saskatchewan has been investing more in renewable sources, such as wind and solar. But the province’s electrical grid still relies mostly on fossil fuels, including coal, provincial officials said Tuesday.

The province would have to spend billions on new technology, Duncan said, such as small modular reactors and carbon capture for natural gas — the latter of which, he said, isn’t being done yet.

SaskPower’s Boundary Dam near Estevan, Sask., was the first power station in the world to successfully use carbon capture technology. But the technology used there cannot simply transfer to natural gas, said SaskPower CEO Rupen Pandya, who also spoke during Tuesday’s news conference.

The provincial government projects it would have to reconstruct more than double its current electrical generating capacity by 2035 if the proposed regulations become law, according to Duncan’s letter to Guilbeault.

SaskPower was on pace to meet the initial federal emissions reduction framework, such as phasing out unabated coal by 2030. But the logistics and finances to complete an overhaul in less time are significant challenges for SaskPower, Pandya said.

“We continue to be committed to moving as fast as possible to get as far as possible,” Pandya said. “But the CER [clean electricity regulations], in its current iteration.… will threaten the reliability of power systems in Saskatchewan.”

SaskPower CEO Rupen Pandya says the utility has expanded significantly in renewable sources, but that meeting the 2035 deadline would be a mountainous task. (Cory Herperger/CBC)

The provincial government wants to follow the electricity generation plan it unveiled last spring, which it says would allow the sector to reach net zero by 2050 — an extra 15 years from the federal regulations — while ensuring affordability and reliability, Duncan said.

Aleana Young, the Opposition NDP’s SaskPower critic, told reporters Tuesday that the federal 2035 timeline is unachievable now.

There has been a lack of federal dollars sent to Saskatchewan to modernize the grid, Young said, but the provincial government is also “more interested in the fight” against Ottawa.

The federal government is consulting with provinces in good faith on its regulations, “because we know we need to get it right,” the Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson said.

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