The time has come for me to call it quits, fold up SaskWind and move on. This blog, our last, explains why.
On Friday the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) announced they will not require a Federal environmental assessment of Chinook - SaskPower’s $700-million, natural gas-fired, power station in Swift Current.
Their decision is extremely disappointing, includes no justification and verges on the inexplicable. Had wind energy been built in place of Chinook it would have avoided one million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year for 30+ years, large volumes of cooling water would not have been needed, it would have been technically and economically feasible and would have employed more people in both construction and operations. These benefits and more, were outlined in our 4 November submission to the CEAA.
Be that as it may: the decision serves as the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back and represents for me personally and so for SaskWind, the end of a long road.
For more than four years we have worked hard to ensure SaskPower changes the way it generates electricity, gives serious consideration to our world-class wind (and solar!) resource and, in developing that resource, ensures maximum economic benefits for Saskatchewan communities.
As we have developed this message we have met with considerable resistance. Over the years that has included (amongst many other things), sustained negative coverage in a provincial print media dominated by advertising dollars from entrenched interests; a lack of any official recognition of SaskWind; massive subsidies ($1.5-billion) to coal and oil; unwillingness to undertake a financial audit of the $1-billion of public funds which went missing at the Boundary Dam Carbon Capture project; and the inexplicable cancellation of our community-based UPP application after more than two years of interminable negotiations.
It is now apparent this resistance emanates directly from the Premier’s office. His dated energy ‘world view’ sees a minimal role for renewables in a provincial energy sector dominated by the hydrocarbon and nuclear industries. We have shown the folly of that position by exposing, through our analysis of the $1.5-billion Boundary Dam Carbon Capture scheme, the massive waste of public funds which results from blind adherence to a one-eyed energy policy.
By definition, our analysis criticised the very essence of the Premier’s energy strategy and so was never going to make us friends in Government. That is why we produced it only as a last resort when it was clear we were getting nowhere with SaskPower’s previous CEO – Robert Watson. He was replaced in April 2015, only one month after we released our CCS analysis, by Mike Marsh. We hoped this would herald the dawn both of a new energy policy and of a more productive dialogue between SaskWind and SaskPower.
Mr Marsh is to be congratulated for doing a tremendous job - no doubt against considerable internal resistance - of ushering in a fundamentally different energy strategy at SaskPower: one in which renewable energy, led by wind, will make up half of Saskatchewan’s power generation capacity by 2030. In introducing that strategy SaskPower has, however, opted to avoid any substantive discussions with SaskWind over the seven-point policy plan we proposed to give effect to this energy shift. It has also sidelined our $90-million community-owned wind/solar proposal in Swift Current.
Given our leading role in the politically rancorous criticism of the $1.5-billion Boundary Dam CCS scheme, such unwillingness is no surprise.
It is now apparent the policy debate is being steered by established wind and solar developers represented by Ontario-based CanWEA and CanSIA. These entities will pay lip-service to community engagement but they represent a corporate-led model of wind and solar development. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with this model: it works and will ensure a significant amount of wind and solar capacity is built in the coming years.
But it is not optimal for Saskatchewan. Wind and solar policy is now being written to favor experienced companies, their shareholders (and debt providers) from Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and the United States. There will be less provincial supply-chain development together with reduced local economic and employment spin-offs. These factors will combine to increase localised resistance to large, out-of-province, corporate entities who are seen to be imposing their energy solutions on, and reaping the majority of economic benefits from, tight-knit rural communities.
All this may give rise to the feeling amongst SaskWind supporters that we are the losers in all of this. Certainly we did not get everything we hoped for. It is, however, a truism that energy is politics and politics is an inexact science - the art of the possible in the face of competing interests.
We may not have achieved all we wanted but we have achieved an amazing amount in a short time.
Consider the words of SaskPower’s former CEO, Robert Watson, who in a particularly vitriolic, 2013, anti-wind tirade in the Star Phoenix said; “Wind will not in my lifetime contribute more than 8 per cent of the corporation’s generating capacity” (‘Answer to power needs isn’t blowin’ in the wind.’ Star Phoenix 5-Feb-2013).
Following our considerable efforts since then, and less than three years later, SaskPower announced that, by 2030 (when Mr. Watson will be 81), wind turbines will contribute 30 per cent of the corporation’s generating capacity.
In your face, Robert Watson.
As for me: I’ve invested a significant amount of money, time and effort in SaskWind and our efforts to transform Saskatchewan’s electricity sector. People have therefore asked if I am disappointed at the outcome.
Quite the opposite. Things could have been better: but isn’t that the nature of life? In my time in Saskatchewan I have worked with wonderful people. I am immensely proud of all we have, together, achieved. It represents an excellent base from which others can continue to move the debate forward in a constructive and proactive fashion. Although I have no idea what the future will bring; I see a global energy landscape which we, and millions like us, have transformed in the short period since I arrived in Saskatchewan in the summer of 2012.
The World is full of opportunity and I look forward to the next challenge.
Thank you all and good luck!