SaskPower’s new Chinook Power Station near Swift Current is now providing electricity to the provincial grid and will become a key part of the Crown corporation’s transition to a greener energy grid.
The grand opening of the province’s newest natural gas-fired power plant took place northwest of Swift Current, Dec. 6.
SaskPower President and CEO Mike Marsh felt it was a significant event, because the addition of a new generating facility to their system does not happen very often. The most recent addition of a new facility was the North Battleford Generating Station, a natural gas power plant, in 2013. The addition of Chinook Power Station brings the total number of power stations in SaskPower’s fleet of assets to 26.
“This particular facility is the newest in combined cycle technology,” he said about Chinook Power Station. “It's the most efficient combustion turbine that's available today or the family of gas turbines that's available today. So it goes a long way to help us reducing our emissions profile as we continue to provide capacity to serve the load in the province. So we're really happy to have this facility online.”
There are already a couple of other plants in the province that use combined-cycle gas turbine technology, but Chinook Power Station is setting new efficiency standards.
“As the years go by, the plants are getting more efficient,” he said. “So you're getting more output for your fuel input and the emissions profile is coming down. It's all helping us meet our targets going forward. … That's the real benefit of gas turbine technology. There's about a 60 per cent reduction in emissions from a gas turbine versus a conventional coal plant. So a conventional coal plant normally would produce about 1,100 tons of CO2 per gigawatt hour of energy. This facility is in the range of 370 to 380 tons per gigawatt hour.”
SaskPower’s goal is to create a cleaner energy grid that will add more renewable sources of power to the system, such as wind, solar, biomass and potentially geothermal. At the same time, gas-fired power plants will replace coal power plants as the source of base load power on the provincial grid.
“In Saskatchewan and Alberta, we've relied on natural gas and coal for many, many years, and with recent federal regulations requiring conventional coal to be phased out, we need to put other forms of energy back into the grid, and combined cycle is a perfect match,” Marsh explained. “We're also adding wind, we're also adding solar, but we have a lot of baseload energy requirements to serve our mining load in the province, and that is required 24/7. So a facility like this gives us great baseload and allows us to operate those facilities when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining.”
SaskPower is moving ahead with plans to build a new natural gas plant in Moose Jaw that will be the same size as the Chinook Power Station. This decision was based on the low price of natural gas and the economics of a combined-cycle natural gas emissions profile. The role of natural gas as a source for energy generation on the grid has changed significantly during the past decade.
“Ten years ago, 60 per cent of our energy was being produced from coal and about 25 to 30 per cent from gas,” he said. “Now we are well over 45 to 50 per cent is natural gas.”
Conventional coal is now about 30 per cent of overall capacity and will continue to decline as SaskPower retires Boundary Dam units 4 and 5. SaskPower has already started to import hydro power from Manitoba and it is planning to buy more in the future.
The Chinook Power Station is a 353-megawatt facility that generates enough electricity to power 350,000 homes. It is a combined cycle gas facility, because it uses a natural gas turbine as well as steam turbine to generate energy for the grid. Natural gas is burned in the gas turbine and thereafter exhaust heat is used to generate steam for the steam turbine.
Several factors made the site near Swift Current a good location for this facility. There is a TransGas pipeline nearby, there is an east-west transmission line to connect the power station to the grid, and load growth in southwest Saskatchewan created a need for a power station in the area.
Minister of Environment and Minister responsible for SaskPower Dustin Duncan referred to the provincial government’s new growth plan for the next decade and the role of Chinook Power Station to ensure a reliable supply of power.
“Making sure our province has the power to support that growth is one of the places where Chinook comes in,” he said. “With the capacity to provide enough electricity to power a city the size of Saskatoon, the Chinook Power Station is critical to deliver the electricity that we need.”
He added the government’s goal is also to reduce emissions from electricity generation and to increase the amount of renewable power for the provincial grid.
“For every one megawatt of renewable power we bring on, we need to bring on a megawatt of baseload power and so for us over the next decade, depending on some other decisions that may need to be made, baseload will essentially be natural gas power,” he said. “We know combined cycle natural gas facilities are a significant reduction in the emissions profile of a plant of this size compared to some of the other fuel options that we do have. So a plant like this is critical for us in order to hit that 40 per cent reduction in our emissions by 2030 and part of that plan is utilizing up to 50 per cent capacity of renewable power and it's not possible without a plant like this.”
The building of the Chinook Power Station created as many as 750 jobs at the peak of the construction phase. It took more than two million labour hours to complete the project. The power station will provide full-time employment to 25 workers during the operational phase and the facility will have an expected lifespan of 25 years.
SaskPower is currently forecasting the final project cost to be $605 million, which will be $75 million under budget. A total of $430 million worth of contracts were available during the construction phase, of which approximately $230 million went to companies outside Saskatchewan or Canada with the necessary experience or capability to build and install equipment such as turbines and generators. In the case of the remaining $200 million in contracts, $153 million went to local companies, including $9 million to indigenous companies.
“There are just some components of a power plant that just aren't produced in Saskatchewan, let alone Canada,” Duncan said. “So a project of this size will always going to be importing parts and with those parts often come the personnel that have experience in constructing a plant like this from out of province. I know that the contractor worked with SaskPower and Priority Saskatchewan and local contractors to ensure that there was as much sourced in terms of parts and people from Saskatchewan as possible and I know in our next plant at Moose Jaw, Priority Saskatchewan is going to work very closely with whoever is going to build that plant to ensure that we can maximize Saskatchewan construction. We want to employ as many Saskatchewan people as possible and we're pretty pleased with the extent that took place in Swift Current.”
Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault said the construction project was a huge benefit for the city and area.
“We were going though a time when we saw a decline in oil and gas, and agriculture being uncertain,” he said. “This project was huge, when you're talking almost $700 million spent within 10 kilometres of your community with a commitment to focus on local; local being the entire province.”
The end of construction meant a significant drop in the number of jobs that were associated with the project, but the City is looking at attracting other projects to the area.
“That's always the concern when you have that vacuum,” he said. “So that's something that we've been aware of, and our local chamber has been aware of as well. We've got other projects that we're working on that we're hopeful to be announcing in the coming months that will hopefully help to fill that vacuum for our local trades. I know our electricians have seen real benefit out here, our local contractors and construction workers and steel providers. They've all seen benefit, and I'm really hopeful that when the Moose Jaw plant starts going that some of our local trades here in our community will get a chance to bid on that as well, even though it is an hour and a half away, I think they've got expertise now that they'll be able to leverage off.”