SaskPower's project summary in support of its latest gas-fired power station proposal - a $700-million, 350 megawatt project, just outside of Swift Current - seeks to justify the project by stating;
This statement is not supported either by technical power systems studies or by actual experience. To the first point (the power systems studies): in July GE Canada completed the Pan Canadian Wind Study which found there would be no technical nor economic issues if wind turbines were supplying 35 percent of Canada's electricity. Since we wrote about that in July we will not consider such studies further in this post.
Instead we'll look at the practical experience of other North American jurisdictions which are heavy users of wind energy. To demonstrate we compare how Saskatchewan and the top twelve US wind states, generate their electricity over a full year.
The states are sorted in order of how much of their electricity is generated by wind: those are the light blue bars on the left with Iowa (at 35.3 percent) at the bottom and Oregon (12.0 percent) at the top. The bars on the right show how the remainder of the states' electricity is generated.
For instance, Iowa generates 35.3 percent of electricity using wind turbines; 6.1 percent - natural gas; 46.9 percent - coal; 9.5 percent - nuclear; 1.1 percent - hydro and 1.1 percent - 'other'. Of particular note: the Hawkeye state has a demonstrably inflexible (from an electrical perspective) generation mix. Despite more than 56 percent of generation coming from baseload coal and nuclear; more than a third (35.3 percent) is wind.
The chart shows there is no 'magic' mix of generation which is required before lots of wind energy can be used. It also clearly indicates that lots of gas-fired capacity is not a prerequisite for lots of wind - in addition to Iowa; take a look at Kansas with 3.9 percent gas and 27.7 percent wind. Also of note is North Dakota: it has almost zero (0.7 percent) flexible gas-fired generation and 73 percent inflexible coal yet generates 20 percent of its total annual electricity needs with wind. This is only a shade under the 22 percent which SaskPower says it wants to achieve by 2030 - 15 years from now.
So, and coming back to where we started: SaskPower's claim that another new gas plant is required before it can build any more wind (or solar).
SaskPower hopes the Chinook gas plant will generate 10 percent of Saskatchewan's electricity. This means that, if wind was built instead of Chinook, wind energy would be supplying 13 percent of our electricity. Ten states (Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Iowa) demonstrate this amount of wind energy could be integrated today using our existing installed natural gas capacity. Three states (Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota) indicate that at least twice as much - i.e. 26 percent - is possible.
SaskPower has a demonstrably poor track record of using our world-class wind resource. The reason, as we have demonstrated in this post, is not technical.