Friday, December 16, 2016


There's plenty of ugly news coming out about the continued problems with Brad Wall's pet carbon capture and storage project - including thoroughly unimpressive output numbers, and payouts to Cenovus to make up for a failure to deliver the carbon dioxide it's supposed to be capturing.

But perhaps even more worrisome than the project's well-known failures is the limited definition of success.

When it comes to emission standards, SaskPower's own self-declared metric is to "continue meeting federal emission regulations". (Keep this filed away for next time Wall complains about the federal government setting standards: even the single project where he's put any resources into promised emission reductions can't find any coherent provincial goals to try to meet.)

But what does it mean for a carbon capture project to comply with federal standards?

One possibility is that it means absolutely nothing for the moment. When the Harper government set up its regulations governing coal power, it made exemptions available for carbon capture and storage projects. And if it has that exemption, SaskPower can technically "continue meeting federal emission regulations" regardless of how much CO2 it dumps into the atmosphere until 2017.

Even if SaskPower is holding itself to the federal standards for coal plants regardless of any exemption, though, that's far from an ideal outcome.

The federal standards for coal plants are intended only to match the carbon output of existing natural gas plants based on 2012 technology. And those emit between ten and a hundred times as many greenhouse gases as renewable alternatives.

So based on SaskPower's self-declared goal, Wall's multi-billion-dollar gamble has a payoff no greater than the possibility of matching the output from existing fossil fuel technology - even as much cleaner alternatives have become far more affordable. (And that ignores the emission costs of increased oil output which are presumably Wall's reason for pushing CCS in the first place.)

Of course, the money spent on Boundary Dam Unit #3 can't be recouped. But there's no reason at all to keep pouring precious public resources into the CCS money pit - particularly when we can achieve a far cleaner power grid simply by matching what's already working around the world.

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