Carbon capture and storage boosters met for a conference in Estevan on Thursday, and they think the technology isn’t getting the love it deserves in Saskatchewan.
Organized by the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and Saskatchewan Building Trades, the event at Southeast College attracted three Conservative members of Parliament who were looking for ideas for the party’s upcoming environmental plan.
Ed Fast, shadow minister for the environment, said voters will have to wait until perhaps the end of June to see whether investments in CCS make the cut. But after a tour of Boundary Dam Unit 3, he seemed bullish on the technology.
“It is certainly a viable solution…” Fast said. “If there are technologies, and I think carbon capture and storage is such a technology, that can preserve jobs, that can harness the value of our resources, and maximize their value to Canadians, I think that’s a story we should be pursuing.”
Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig, who also attended the conference seated alongside local MLA Lori Carr, feels much the same way. He’s still hoping to hear a CCS announcement that might save Boundary Dam Unit 6, just south of Estevan.
“It would save jobs, and we’re pushing very hard,” he said.
But most talk has turned to the neighbouring Shand Power Station, which Ludwig acknowledged would be cheaper to outfit with CCS technology.
A federal coal phase-out means that coal-fired power plants will have to shut down by 2030, unless they’re fitted with CCS. But the province has announced no new CCS projects since Boundary Dam 3, opting for gas power plants and renewables instead.
Corwyn Bruce, an engineer who is vice president of the International CCS Knowledge Centre, said that’s partly because natural gas prices have become so “embarrassingly cheap” that it’s tough for CCS-equipped coal plants to compete.”
But he said that’s changing. The knowledge centre has been looking at ways to close the price gap, and a study released in November estimated that CCS at Shand would be 67 per cent cheaper per megawatt hour, compared to Boundary Dam 3. The project would “sneak in” just under the billion-dollar mark.
“It’s brought it closer to being the most economic,” he said.
Asked whether CCS-fitted coal power is now roughly competitive with gas, he gave a cautious affirmative.
“If you have a revenue stream to buy the CO2, then the answer is yes,” said Bruce.
He noted that CO2 captured through CCS can be used in the oil industry to help free up hard-to-reach oil. If Shand could sell the roughly two million tonnes of CO2 it could capture annually, then the project could have “a very compelling business case.”
Unfortunately, he noted that the oil downturn means few energy companies are in any position to invest in the enhanced oil recovery techniques that use CO2.
Despite the challenges, many of those at the conference believe that CCS will need to be a part of the planet’s fight against climate change.
Robert Mitchell of the Global CCS Institute noted that there are now 43 CCS projects either in operation or in development around the world. For the world to reach the targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change, he thinks 94 Shand-sized units will have to be equipped with the technology — every year — until 2040.
He said Boundary Dam helped pave the way. Though the $1.5-billion facility has faced cost overruns and periodic shutdowns due to equipment issues, Mitchell noted that capture rates are getting better all the time.
Bruce agreed, saying that Boundary Dam 3 is consistently emitting less for every unit of electricity it produces.
Many at the conference believe public fears of cost overruns have played a part in keeping the technology from moving forward. They feel there’s more work to do to allay those apprehensions.
“We need people to understand how this technology works,” said Dion Malakoff, executive director of Saskatchewan Building Trades. “We need to debunk the myths.”