"Clean Coal" is the Wrong Road to Take


"Clean Coal" is the Wrong Road to Take 

(Submitted as a guest editorial to the Leader Post of Regina)

by John W. Warnock

April 23, 2022

Lorne Calvert's NDP government and SaskPower seem determined to saddle the
people of Saskatchewan with a new "clean coal" generating facility. The research has
been done, the Estevan site has been chosen, and the project's supplying corporations
are on side. The 300 Megawatt (MW) plant will cost between $1.5 and $2.0 billion. But
this is clearly not the best way to produce energy nor to reduce carbon dioxide
greenhouse gas emissions.
In the first place, coal fired generators are very inefficient, capturing only
around 33% of the energy in the combustion process; the remaining two thirds of the
energy produced is dissipated into the environment. This waste energy cannot be captured
and used where power plants are far removed from industrial projects and population
The "clean coal" aspect of this project is the Oxyfuel system used to capture
around 90% of the carbon dioxide, compress and chill it to liquid form, and then pump it
deep into the ground for sequestration. Unfortunately, this is an expensive and
inefficient process. Of the total 450 MW of electricity to be produced by the new plant,
150 MW will be used in the Oxyfuel and geological storage process. As many studies have
argued, down the road carbon dioxide sequestration may permit the continued use of coal
for power generation. But it is no solution to the current problem of greenhouse gas
emissions and climate change.
Furthermore, the carbon dioxide extracted by the proposed SaskPower plant will
be used to enhance oil recovery. The liquid carbon dioxide is pumped into the permeable
oil bearing rock strata, is dissolved in the oil which reduces its viscosity, and it
then sweeps the more mobile oil to the production wells. This is the system presently
used by EnCana at Midale. Some of the pumped carbon dioxide escapes in this process. And
of course this strategy completely undermines the goal of carbon sequestration as more
petroleum is extracted and consumed, creating even more greenhouse gas emissions.
Building a very expensive new power plant at Estevan further commits
Saskatchewan and Sask Power to a highly centralized system of electrical power
production and distribution. We have a great many alternative sources of energy, and
their development requires a decentralized system. We must also plan for disasters which
are caused by climate change. In January 1998 there was an ice storm in Quebec, and many
areas were without power for several weeks. What would a similar event do to
Saskatchewan? How many people would die?
Last January I was in Seattle doing research and I looked into the energy
strategy of Seattle City Light, a municipal public utility. In the 1920s they built
three dams on the Skagit River which serve as their base supply. They also contract for
some power from the Bonneville Power Administration. In 1976 they opted out of the
Washington Public Power Supply plan to build nuclear reactors and chose instead to
promote conservation. In 2002 they contracted to purchase power from the Stateline Wind
Project on the Oregon-Washington border.
But the Seattle area has the highest annual population growth of any region in
the United States. Therefore, in 2006 Seattle City Light produced an integrated plan for
power development for the period 2007-2025. Over this period they will add 460 MW of
electrical power. This will include 142 MW from conservation, 100 MW from geothermal
development, 55 MW from additional wind sources, 25 MW from landfill gas, and 15 MW from
biomass energy. The total projected capital cost of these additions is only $170 million.
For many years Seattle City Light has been providing direct financial incentives
to promote conservation and the purchase of more efficient appliances. They have a very
basic demand management system: for the first 10 kilowatt hours (kWh) consumed a
household pays 3.76 cents a kWh, above that the cost is 7.93 cents kWh. They are now
promoting individual household and business production of solar, wind and biomass
electricity. Through a net metering system households are paid market price for the
energy they provide to the city grid. Households and businesses who install new
generating facilities get city, state and federal rebates and tax incentives.
Seattle City Light is only one example of how communities can shift to renewable
energy. How long do we have to wait before a Saskatchewan government takes this issue

John W. Warnock is a Regina political economist and environmental activist.