Wednesday, 28 October 2015 14:16

Carbon capture project gobbles money not results

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Saskatchewan’s under-performing carbon capture facility is certainly not good news for Premier Brad Wall as he prepares to attend the upcoming United Nations climate change conference, which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, France.

The goal of the conference is to secure legally-binding greenhouse gas emission targets from countries.
Wall has indicated he will be going to the conference to protect Saskatchewan’s economic interests and to showcase SaskPower’s carbon capture project.
The project lost some of its shine earlier this week when the opposition Saskatchewan NDP revealed details from internal documents that indicate the carbon capture process is only operating at 40 per cent of capacity.
As a result, the Saskatchewan government has already paid out about $12 million in contractual penalties to energy company Cenovus for failing to deliver the required amount of carbon captured by the facility, which is located at SaskPower’s Boundary Dam coal-fired power station near Estevan.
SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh has told Canadian Press the Crown Corporation might have to pay another $5 million to $6 million in penalties to Cenovus before the end of the year.
The agreement between SaskPower and Cenovus requires the delivery of 2,192 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per day from the facility to the energy company, which uses the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery in its oilfield operations.
This carbon capture facility — the first ever commercial-scale carbon capture and storage process on a coal-fired power plant in the world — has been criticized for its hefty $1.4 billion price tag while it was still under construction.
The commitment of the current provincial government to the development of this carbon capture technology was highlighted in Premier Wall’s speech at the official opening of the project last fall.
He referred to the challenge facing decision-makers who must take steps to address global concerns about greenhouse gas emissions while keeping energy costs affordable for economic growth.
Wall’s singular focus on the benefits of the carbon capture and storage process has been criticized as an indication of a lack of political commitment to addressing the climate change challenge facing Saskatchewan.
The province has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the country at 69.8 tonnes of greenhouse gas per person compared to 20.3 tonnes per person for Canada as a whole.
Energy consumption will continue to increase due to Saskatchewan’s growing population and robust economy, which will present a real challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A potential multi-faceted approach to achieve future greenhouse gas emission targets in Saskatchewan is not evident in Wall’s scepticism towards incentives such as cap and trade and carbon taxes.
It is not clear how Wall plans to defend Saskatchewan’s economic interests at the climate change conference without a strategy that offers some attempt to address greenhouse gas emissions.
His argument in favour of carbon capture and storage will be much weaker after this week’s details about the difficulties with the Boundary Dam project.
It will be easy for Wall to appear to be a climate laggard in the presence of Canada’s prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau at the Paris conference. Trudeau’s intention is to set a new tone for Canada’s approach to climate change and provinces such as Ontario and Quebec are in favour of stronger action on climate change.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has argued the province will have to improve its environmental image as a way to promote international market access for Alberta’s oil and gas sector.
Canadian businesses are also favouring clear policy from government on dealing with climate change. A resolution was adopted by more than 98 per cent of delegates at the Oct. 17-18 Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting in Ottawa that asked the federal government to work with the provinces to adopt a national carbon tax or cap and trade system to achieve a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Saskatchewan needs a positive voice in Paris to promote the province’s economic goals as well as its environmental responsibilities. The residents of Saskatchewan expect Premier Wall to be that voice.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Matthew Liebenberg