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What Policies Are Behind Sask Power's 2009 Budget?

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It's vital for us to know the policies behind Sask Power's budget, otherwise we'll be "kept in the dark". I finally got permission to interview Sask Power Vice President (VP) Gary Wilkinson.

CO-GENERATION: What about the nearly $400 million spent for 341 MW's capacity from gas turbines? I knew these could be quickly ramped up for peak loads, something the VP agreed nuclear can't do. But I wanted to know why combined cycle turbines, which are more efficient because they cogenerate electricity, weren't used. The VP simply said these would "take longer to get", adding that, "perhaps in the future", this would be possible at Saskatoon. (The VP later noted that "co-gen" purchase agreements from industry were approaching 450 MW capacity.) I also wanted to know why these turbines were at Kerrobert, North Battleford and Saskatoon, and the VP was quite candid that this was for expected "significant oilfield and large pipeline loads".

CONSERVATION: It's much cheaper to reduce demand than increase supply, so I asked: why there wasn't anything in the budget on demand side reduction (DSM)? The VP said we "don't capitalize (that) here". I asked how much reduction in demand (and hence in required future capacity) Sask Power was assuming, and the VP said "100 MW reduction by 2017." Sask Power is not known as a leader in DSM, and after talking to an energy efficiency expert, who said 20% reduction through DSM is "conventional wisdom", this doesn't seem to have changed. I'll explore this more fully in the future.

WIND POWER: The North American Electric Reliability Corporation is forecasting 146,000 MW of wind and only 9,000 of nuclear, so I asked: why there was no wind power in the budget? Wilkinson clarified there was about 200 MW wind, most from the Calvert government's Centennial project. I noted that with less potential wind power than us, Alberta was approaching 1,000 MW. The VP said Sask Power was preparing a report on "wind deployment strategy", but the Alberta level would be difficult on "our smaller grid". I have since found there are applications for thousands more MW's of wind in Alberta.

KEEPING COAL: Is Sask Power planning to keep us dependent on coal plants, which provide 55% of our electricity? I wanted to know this as nuclear power is promoted as a "clean" alternative to coal. (I've discussed this "nuclear green-washing" in the past.) The VP answered that we'll need a "blend of technology" and "in the longer run we'll need carbon reductions", mentioning "clean coal and wind". (Earlier he,d mentioned "run-of-the river hydro".) Though I raised this in the context of nuclear power, he didn't mention nuclear in "the blend". Whether he hedged on this politically sensitive issue I don't know.

WHY CONSIDER NUCLEAR? The communications officer jumped in saying "that's it, time's up". Since nuclear is the most expensive, and a fairly unreliable way to produce base load power, and this is all it can do, I was just about to ask: with coal clearly in "the blend", did it make sense to go into nuclear? (On a Sierra Club panel I shared in Regina Jan. 15, 2007 a past VP, Rick Patrick, said nuclear power didn't make sense for our small grid.) My follow-up question was to be: whether the rationale for nuclear power was for exploiting the tarsands and creating a private export market, and whether capital costs for nuclear plants and transmission upgrades would have to be carried by the public? Maybe next time! Some things are clear: Sask Power isn't being proactive about co-generation or conservation (DSM), nor is it embracing the trend towards wind. Whether this is to ensure a market for privatized nuclear power, I can't say. This may depend on how the public responds to the nuclear industry-controlled Uranium Development Partnership's push for nuclear plants on the North Sask River. The UDP is holding meetings from May 19th to June 5th, so watch for these in your area. There can't be "prior, informed consent" if the public is kept in the dark about these matters.