SWIFT CURRENT — SaskPower is exploring options to transfer as much as 1,000 megawatts of electricity from Manitoba Hydro for the year 2030 and beyond.
That’s enough to power roughly a million homes.
Dustin Duncan, minister responsible for SaskPower, said the idea remains “hypothetical at this point.”
He noted that doing so would require extremely expensive infrastructure upgrades.
“At a minimum, we’re talking in the billions, just on the infrastructure to import, to be able to take that amount of power,” he said Friday.
“That doesn’t include the cost to buy that power over a 30-year contract. So we would be into billions and billions and billions of dollars.”
The most cost-effective option for transferring that much power would require high-voltage transmission lines running from Winnipeg to Regina, according to a joint study published by SaskPower and Manitoba Hydro last month.
That option would cost roughly $1.8 billion. Other options run far higher, reaching as much as $3 billion.
There are also options for a 500-megawatt link that would cost as little as $489 million.
For comparison, the cost of building the 350-megawatt Chinook Power Station was $605 million.
But Duncan noted there are important differences, and a “simple math” comparison could be deceptive. SaskPower would have to pay Manitoba Hydro for the power itself, in addition to the infrastructure.
SaskPower CEO Mike Marsh said the work on a high-capacity link with Manitoba remains at a “preliminary” phase, with potentially years of discussions necessary to make it a reality.
But it looks good on paper.
“Hydro is a natural,” he said, adding that the connection “might be a perfect complement to our existing profile here in Saskatchewan.”
According to Duncan, there is also interest in the idea at Manitoba Hydro, which will soon see the end of some of its long-term contracts with the United States.
“Those contracts are going to be ending in the next couple of years,” said Duncan. “So they’re really looking for buyers of power, and they have other hydro facilities that are coming online, so they’re really looking. They’re in the market to find buyers.”
SaskPower and Manitoba Hydro are already co-operating on much smaller projects. They’re now working on a power line capable of transferring power from Birtle, Man., to Tantallon, Sask.
Marsh said SaskPower has entered into a 100-megawatt contract with Manitoba Hydro, while a second, for 215 megawatts, will start in “a couple of years.”
Duncan said those contracts were signed because a growing province needs more power, and federal policy makes hydro among the most attractive ways of getting it.
“Obviously we have an interest, particularly now as that federal carbon tax is imposed on all of our generation, in any opportunity that we can add, essentially, generation that is carbon-tax free,” he said. “That’s a positive.
The study also suggests that the link could help the two provinces “transition to a sustainable non-emitting electricity portfolio in the region.” It specifically mentions the possibility of “wind synergy.”
SaskPower has a target of reducing its emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. It also has to comply with an accelerated federal phase-out of coal-fired generation that will shut down what was once its biggest source of power.
With two Boundary Dam units set to go off-line in 2021 and 2024, Duncan hopes the existing contracts with Manitoba can help fill the gap.
The 1,000-megawatt proposal is on a much larger scale, and much further down the road.
The joint study makes clear that the 1,000-megawatt connection would have to come in two stages, at least under the most cost-effective scenario.
“It is an option, obviously,” said Duncan. “SaskPower is going to consider it and make that evaluation. We’re looking at it.”
The Saskatchewan government is floating a variety of options to transition away from high-emission generation as it moves beyond 2030. Duncan has previously said small modular nuclear reactors could help the province get to net-zero emissions in electricity generation by 2050.
Although 1,000 megawatts is sufficient to power virtually every home in Saskatchewan, SaskPower also supplies a great deal of electricity to industrial and commercial customers.
SaskPower’s summer peak power demand as of the 2018-19 annual report was 3,524 megawatts.