Clean Coal Megaprojects for Saskatchewan


Clean Coal Megaprojects for Saskatchewan

Briefing notes for Green Party Candidates
Prepared by John W. Warnock

Do a google search for “clean coal” and you will find that the coal industry, power corporations and governments are strongly supporting this as the answer to greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants. For the NDP government in Saskatchewan, it is the silver bullet that allows continued mining and burning coal. Possibly a system of using carbon capture and storage could gain GHG credits for trading. It could be used to extract more oil through enhanced oil recovery, a system now being developed near Estevan with large government subsidies.

Recently Sask Power spent $86 million to refurbish the coal fired generation plants at Coronach and Poplar River-Boundary Dam to allow them to continue to burn coal for another 25 years.

New Proposals

(1) Sask Power has proposed a new $1.5 billion “clean coal” project to be built next to one of its two existing plants in southern Saskatchewan and are planning to fast-track the project by two years. This would create a new 300MW coal-fired power plant. Carbon dioxide most likely would be used for enhanced oil recovery. The plant would come on line in 2011.

(2) The Federal and provincial governments are financing research to study the feasibility of a “poly-generation” plant to be cited at Belle Plaine, using petroleum coke or lignite coal for fuel, which would produce hydrogen, nitrogen, steam and carbon dioxide to produce fertilizer, electricity and other commodities. This would be a joint Saskatchewan-private industry project costing around $3 billion.

Problems with the Coal industry:

Coal is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. A 300 MW plant will produce 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in one year.

Coal-fired power plants are the leading source of mercury emissions in North America which adversely affects human health, fish and wildlife. Methyl mercury affects the learning ability and neurological development of children.

Burning coal produces large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Sulphur dioxide mixes with rain and snow to produce acid rain. Nitrogen oxides are the key ingredient in smog.

Mega projects are poor development

Large power projects using coal, nuclear energy and natural gas are capital intensive. They employ few people when in operation. They are normally highly centralized operations. They have few forward and backward linkages to the local community. To be efficient they must operate at full capacity at all times.

Large power plants require a highly centralized distribution system. While this was deemed important when first developing energy for rural and northern communities, in the era of climate change and the increased likelihood of ice storms as in Quebec and the Maritimes, they are risky developments. Decentralized, locally controlled energy system are much better suited to the new era of climate change.

Coal generation projects exist because of government subsidies and accounting systems which externalize environmental and health costs to the public at large. While coal seems “cheap” when it sells for 3.5 cents per kWh, if the externalized costs are included, studies show that the price rises to between 8 and 12 cents per kWh.

Carbon capture and storage which is proposed for “clean coal” production requires storage in deep saline aquifers in order to contain the carbon. This can only be done from large point sources in certain favourable geological sites.

Using carbon dioxide to push more oil out of the ground is self defeating. Studies show that the process used and the burning of the oil and gas released results in a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions. (See

The obvious alternative

The Pembina Institute in Calgary has examined carbon capture and storage. They conclude that it might be justified as a “small percentage of public funds devoted to GHG emission reductions.” The primary emphasis should be on conservation, improving energy efficiency, and a decentralized system which includes a broad range of renewable energy projects. They also argue that we need a strong regulatory system to control emissions from large industrial operations.

Imagine what we could do in Saskatchewan if $4.5 billion were spent on an alternative energy system!

John W. Warnock
2156 Retallack St.
Regina, SK
S4T 2K4
(306) 352-5282

"It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than vote for something you don't want and get it." Eugene V. Debs