'Come get me': Premier Moe responds to federal minister on running coal plants past 2030

Premier Scott Moe says the province will consider continuing to run its coal-fired power plants past 2030 which would by in violation of federal regulations. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Premier Scott Moe says the province will consider continuing to run its coal-fired power plants past 2030 which would by in violation of federal regulations. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Premier Scott Moe said "come get me" on Thursday when asked about the potential legal ramifications of running coal-fired power plants past 2030 in violation of federal regulations.

On Wednesday, Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada Steven Guilbeault said Saskatchewan would be breaking the law if it ran coal-fired electricity after 2030, unless they were equipped with carbon capture technology.

"We've regulated the ban on coal through CEPA (Canadian Environmental Protection Act) which is a criminal tool that the federal government has. So not complying with this regulation would be a violation of Canada's Criminal Code."

Guilbeault had been asked to respond to comments Moe made on Tuesday saying the province could continue to run its coal-fired plants until end of life, well past 2030.

On Thursday morning, Moe fired back at Guilbeault.

"If where we've come to in this country is when individuals in this province, or any other province, they flick their lights on or their furnace fan kicks in that's deemed illegal and cause for someone to go to jail, come get me," Moe said.

"We're standing up for an affordable reliable power supply here in Saskatchewan. None of those are provided by the federal net-zero plan."

On Tuesday, Moe and SaskPower outlined the province's power generation plan, which includes a goal of a net-zero electrical grid by 2050, 15 years later than the federal target.

"We will consider running our fossil fuel generating electricity production facilities to the end of their life," Moe said Tuesday.

Moe and Justice Minister Bronwyn Eyre said they believe power generation is within the province's jurisdiction and did not express concern over a legal battle.

"We can run those [natural gas plants] out to the end of their life. As a province we reserve the right to make that decision. The same goes for a coal-fired facilities," Moe said Thursday.

The federal government passed regulations in 2018 that would force coal-fired plants to shut down by the end of 2029 unless they are equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology (CCS).

In Saskatchewan, only Boundary Dam 3 has (CCS). Other coal-fired plants in the province would have to be shut down.

Poplar River power station has an end-of-life by 2030. Shand Power Plant has a retirement date of 2042.

In 2019, the Saskatchewan government indicated it did not plan to retrofit its other coal-fired stations with CCS.

Guilbeault said Wednesday the federal government was not proposing a system that would lead to unreliable power.

"If we want to be competitive in the 21st-century economy, we have to decarbonize our grid. It's about jobs, not just for the next five or 10 years, but for the next 30 to 50 years. And of course, we want to do that in a way that is affordable for Canadians."

Guilbeault emphasized that the final clean electricity standards have not been released, and the premier and province were being presumptuous.

"We want to have a reliable grid and no one wants a situation where we flick off the switch and it's not working. Of course not," Guilbeault said.

Moe said the draft policy of the clean electricity standards, announced in 2022, provided enough evidence that the main sources of power generation in Saskatchewan, natural gas and coal, may not be allowed past 2035 under federal rules.

Currently, 65 per cent of the province's generating capacity comes from natural gas (40 per cent), and coal (25 per cent).

The draft policy indicates some natural gas plants built prior to regulations would be able to operate past 2035.

SaskPower said natural gas facilities have a life span of 45 years, while Boundary Dam 3 has an end-of-life of 2044.

Saskatchewan is transitioning into more reliance on natural gas, with new plants opening, under construction and planned in the coming years. The government has already spent more than $1.3 billion on new plants in Swift Current and Moose Jaw, and has another in the works in the Lanigan area.

Moe called the federal plan "unrealistic" and "unaffordable," and said that applies to more than Saskatchewan.

"This is not exclusively a Saskatchewan problem. Other provinces will not meet net zero by 2035 either."

SaskPower and the province have signalled an intention to study using small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) in the next decade to provide some baseload power.

SaskPower has set a goal of 2029 to make a decision on the technology, and any SMR in the province would not be online until the mid-2030s.

Saskatchewan also buys hydroelectric energy from Manitoba Hydro.

Moe said the province is committed to greening its grid, but said wind and solar are not reliable enough to provide a baseload to power the province.

Moe called the federal government's 2035 target, "largely an ideal ideological plan."

"I understand the reasoning behind trying to green your grid, but you also have to understand the reality behind greening your grid."

The plan the province announced Tuesday includes asking the federal government for $6 billion over the next 12 years for power generation goals, with Saskatchewan covering another $22 billion.

"We have industries that use large amounts of power here in the province, industries that employ people in community after community. We need to have a competitive power rate to ensure that those industries continue to operate here," Moe said.

Opposition supports Moe's motion

On Wednesday, Moe introduced the following motion into the assembly:

That this Assembly recognizes that the federal government's electrical generation target of net zero emissions by 2035 is unrealistic and unaffordable in Saskatchewan; and further, That this Assembly supports the provincial government's made-in-Saskatchewan plan for affordable, reliable power generation to 2035 and beyond.

Opposition Leader Carla Beck subsequently introduced an amended motion:

That all of the words after "and further" be struck out and replaced with the following: That this Assembly calls on the government to make significant investments in renewable power to ensure reliable, affordable, sustainable power and seize the economic opportunity that comes with green jobs.

The 40 government members voted against the amendment. However, both the government and seven Opposition MLAs in attendance voted in favour of Moe's motion.

Members also voted to have copies of the motion sent to federal party leaders.