During mid-January, SaskPower restarted Boundary Dam’s No. 4 coal-fired power unit that was originally scheduled to be removed from service in 2021. At the same time, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) issued a grid alert saying the Alberta grid would face a 100- to 200-megawatt (mw) shortfall of electricity during peak evening hours.

SaskPower stepped up supplying Alberta with more than 150 mw. Alberta has retired much of its coal capacity and many Albertans blame the liberal wing of the government for mismanaging the province’s electricity resources.

Demand for SaskPower was averaging 3,300 mw during January. The utility derives 51% of its power from natural gas, 37% from coal, 7% from hydro, 3% from wind, and less than 1% from solar.

The situation highlights the divide between the eastern provinces and the federal government in Ottawa and the reality of rural western Canada. In eastern Canadian, much of the power is derived from hydro and nuclear sources. Achieving net-zero is much more attainable goal for them and they are proposing country-wide policies that some western Canadians see as preposterous.

As an example, in November, the Government of Saskatchewan, which operates SaskPower, responded to the federal government’s proposed Clean Electricity Regulations (CER), urging it not to proceed with the regulations as currently proposed.

“The federal government’s approach, in an attempt to regulate Saskatchewan’s electricity system, is unaffordable, unconstitutional, and technologically and logistically unattainable,” Crown Investments Corp. Minister Dustin Duncan said. “The proposed CER will jeopardize the reliability of Saskatchewan’s power grid and increase power rates to an unaffordable level.”

The proposed regulations impose a net-zero electricity grid across Canada by 2035. SaskPower estimates that electricity rates would more than double by 2035 to cover the $40 billion in costs associated with compliance. It would need to expand, replace, and rebuild more than 100% of its current power generating capacity of more than 5,400 mw in 11 years while also significantly expanding its transmission infrastructure.