SaskPower Tries Utility Solar Finally

19 years after their first foray into utility solar testing at the Science Centre with a small solar array, SaskPower is finally planning to put small-scale grid solar into production. Near the end of this year, SPC may end renewable energy incentives it has already rolled back since the beginning of this decade.

The CBC story leaves out the fact that more than 10 times the fossil fuel generation is going online in 2019 near Swift Current for SaskPower, while SPC maintains they’re trying to reach 50% renewables in only 12 years. It’s not clear how planning to add more fossils than renewables gets us closer to that long term goal, since we already have fewer than 1% in solar, and about 3% in wind.


SaskPower Misinforming The Public About Solar Power

In honour of the solar eclipse on Monday, SaskPower shared what it’s been saying about solar power for many years. The problem with reusing years-old information about technology, is that sometimes you get things wrong due to advances in the technology. There should not be so many factual errors in SaskPower’s communications with the public. It’s a sore point for me, because it’s so critical that people understand the capabilities (and true limitations) of renewable energy technologies. Only by changing how we power our electrical grid and daily lives, can we quickly leave fossil fuels in the past to reduce damaging climate changes, and health problems from emissions.

I’m one of those 400 #solar energy providers to the SaskPower grid. It’s known as Net Metering, because the net electricity used, at the end of a year is billed to me, but any generated above equality is kept in SaskPower’s favour.

Photons, not IR/heat is collected from light, & is converted into electrons (electricity). Heat causes additional resistance / lower output. Telling people otherwise could convince them that seasonally cold Regina isn’t a great place for solar, when it’s actually a top location in the world!

As you can see from my examples, SaskPower has some explaining to do, about the [mis]information they’re sharing on their Twitter feed. I worry what else they’re telling people, that’s as inaccurate.

ADDED: Sent this to SaskPower. I’ll let you know what they do to correct the record.

“SaskPower shared some inaccurate information on its series of tweets during the solar eclipse. Will SaskPower correct the record, and tweet correct information about solar power from this point forward?

Please let me know when SaskPower issues corrections, and I’ll update my article.

John Klein”

“Thank you, your inquiry has been submitted.

A SaskPower representative will respond to your inquiry shortly.”

UPDATE: They replied yesterday:

Thank you for your email. Solar is an important part of a cleaner energy
future for Saskatchewan. We want customers to understand our plans for
solar, and as you note in your blog, the limitations of the technology, as
well. To ensure reliability for customers, intermittent generation sources
like wind and solar require back up baseload power that’s available 24/7.
We also aim to balance a mix of sources that offer reliability,
cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability. We are keenly paying
attention to the development of utility-scale battery storage technology as
you mention and will look forward to testing it once the technology
continues to evolve.

Okay, but what about correcting the mistakes in the information you shared with the public? e.g. equating heat with electricity production in PV cells. That’s not how it works.

Why are you not testing battery storage technology now?

Support Our Crown Corporations

For City Council on Monday:

Your Worship,

I’m here to speak in support of Saskatchewan’s Crown Corporations. I’m originally from a small town that would not have had electrical grid service, nor widespread telephone service when it did if not for the creation of Crown corporations. SaskPower, SGI, STC, and SaskTel are among the very best service providers in Canada to this day, often offering rates far below their national competitors’ rates.

While I was on the advisory board for SaskTel’s Community Net high speed Internet service to schools and libraries, we led the world in broadband access across our vast province. Crowns are capable of delivering world-leading services, and ultimately that’s what City government is here for, not to make a profit, but to deliver needed services that individuals are not well suited to provide in a competitive economy.

It’s still possible for Regina, Saskatoon, and other municipalities to save STC by taking it over, since we run Transportation services with larger budgets than the “loss” STC incurs each year to offer transportation service to Regina and the rest of the province. If we focus on routes admittedly “profitable” by the Provincial government, we can maintain service levels to some destinations, and add a revenue stream for the City of Regina. Try to find another delegation that offers a revenue stream that fits with one of the City’s core-services already in existence.

Other parts of Canada have inter-regional transportation services, like Go Transit, and Via Rail. The Provincial Government has failed in its duty to provide multi-modal transportation options to its citizens and visitors, so the City should make its best effort to fill in that gap as it does with ParaTransit service. I must bring up the Province is paying for shuttle buses to the city’s hospitals to reduce parking problems, rather than fund Regina Transit sufficiently to operate shuttles that are available for patients and regular Transit users as well. There are smarter ways of delivering Transit services, but standing by and letting STC be scrapped is not one of those smart choices.

Speaking of smart choices regarding Transit, I’d like to see fares for children be reduced to $0. This would encourage families to use the bus over private automobile choices.

Brad Wall On “Sustainably Developing Our Energy Resources”

Brad Wall says “…we need to do better in terms of more sustainably developing our energy resources…”

Unfortunately what he means is he wants to find ways of ensuring fossil fuels and uranium come out of the ground at an increasingly profitable pace, no matter the world’s demand/need for such things.
Greg Fingas views it as such, too.

He notes that oil pride goes “Before the fall”. (Although technically oil prices have already fallen.)

The government’s climate change policy works like this: extract every last drop of fossil fuel then pray to God that no one uses it.” – G. Monbiot
I’ll add that they hope no one uses it, so long as someone first buys it. Perhaps we need to consider if the economic system is capable of delivering what Wall says he wants for our society.

I wouldn’t have as big a problem with the SaskParty’s development of Wall’s favoured energy resources if they also put money and thought into doing a better job of sustainably developing our energy resources – all of our resources, like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro.

“It (coal/oil) employs people right across Canada, indirectly and directly. And yes, we all hope that fossil fuels will one day not be needed, but in the meantime they are — 2013, 80% of the world’s energy was, came from fossil fuels, after all of the world’s projected climate change measures are done by two (zero) thirty five (2035), the number’s 57%.”

It’s 57%, if we as a species fail to avert climate change. If our political leaders make an effort to save us, then it can be less than 10%.

“Coil, coal and oil, will still be a part of, it makes a big part, more than half of the mix of generating energy.

We have a chance as a country to play a big part in that, in terms of reducing the carbon footprint of energy development. We should be a little prouder than we are of the resource, and understand that programs like equalization and all the rest are funded by a strong economy and in our country a big part of a strong economy has been energy.”

Proud that Saskatchewan is a world leader in carbon pollution per capita? Wall’s right that Saskatchewan has a chance to play a big part in reducing the carbon footprint, but he’s barely begun. Aside from the billion tax dollar giveaway to Cenovus at the SaskPower CCS power plant, he’s spent insignificant time/money on wind or solar energy resources.

Continue reading

Meantime, SaskPower Must Consider Solar #skpoli

Three years ago, SaskPower VP Judy May promised me that her Crown Corporation would consider solar power once “large-scale solar installations become more economical”.

By and large, utility industry experts agree that when compared to other renewable sources solar is a high cost generation option for utilities in the Northern Hemisphere.

Meantime, SaskPower has programs available to encourage the development of environmentally preferred technologies, including solar.

-SaskPower Vice President, Corporate Relations, Judy May, January 2012

Regina panoramic

Flash forward 3 years to the news of 2015.

How many months will we wait for SaskPower to consider a $1,300,000,000 investment (or more) into industrial scale solar, as they recently completed the CCS project in Estevan for that amount to burn coal?

History has shown that if we wait for SaskPower to lead on this investment, it won’t happen. We need political pressure on the Crown Corporation to stop burning coal which kills people with reduced air quality. Following the year 2000 study in PV solar, SaskPower wrote the following for its website, which is no longer true, “At present, solar power is not suitable for large-scale generation in Saskatchewan because of its high cost and low capacity factors.” They removed that out-of-date blurb after I brought it to their attention only 3 years ago.

Dear Mr. Klein,

Thank you for your interest in solar power generation in Saskatchewan.

To answer your question about the photovoltaic array at the Saskatchewan Science Centre (installed in 2000), our most recent data (2013) show the following:

Rated power: 2,800 watts
Capacity factor (nominal year average): 7.8%
Nominal gross output: 1,913 kilowatt hours (KWhr)

SaskPower is making significant financial investments to rebuild, upgrade and modernize the province’s aging electricity system. This includes finding cleaner ways to power our growing province. We’re fortunate here in Saskatchewan to have a number of available generation options and we consider each of them, including carbon capture and storage, natural gas, hydro, wind and other renewables.

When making decisions about generation options, SaskPower balances cost, environmental impact, and reliability. While costs for solar are indeed coming down as you point out, cost continues to be one of the major barriers to large-scale solar projects that could supply bulk power to the provincial grid. To better understand the economics and operability of solar, SaskPower is investigating the feasibility of a utility scale solar demonstration project as a means of evaluating the viability of this option for Saskatchewan.

Meantime, solar technology is best-suited for residential and/or small commercial customers who wish to self-generate electricity, or for off-grid applications. SaskPower encourages the development of small-scale solar, and other clean energy technologies, through our Net Metering and Small Power Producer Programs. Through these programs over 300 homes and businesses {John’s note: Less than 300 according to SaskPower in the Star Phoenix only a few months ago.} use solar to supplement the electricity they receive from SaskPower.

Thanks again for your interest.

Brian Mohr, P.Eng, B.E. |Director, Sustainable Supply Development Resource Planning|SaskPower| 2025 Victoria Avenue, Regina SK S4P 0S1

Meantime, I think the people of Saskatchewan are going to have to pressure our Crown Corporation to invest in renewable energy in a way that people cannot do individually. We could have ~100% renewable electricity in Saskatchewan by the end of this decade. (Technologically, this is possible. Politically, probably not going to happen.)

Put Your Opportunities In Order

My job, trying to change the world, is at least twice as hard as a conservative’s. I have to overcome others’ instinctual fear of change and new technology. Monday evening I proposed my condo board “investigate” using solar energy, if the association’s Winter expenses don’t exceed our budget. 2 Board members opposed the idea! The motion passed anyway, but why would someone oppose an investigation of saving money on electricity? They stated it was an opportunity cost. Let’s look how that claim stacks up:

They suggested raising property value by installing carpets as a competing example. If we spent $10K on carpets, property values rise, but owners never get that $10K back to spend again (except, potentially, through selling their condo).

3rd Solar Tour
-Solar heat installed on a Regina apartment building years ago.

Consider the other way. Buy $10K in solar PV panels. This will unquestionably raise property values. In ~10 years we have ~$10K saved through offset power bills to SaskPower. Then buy carpets & have both new carpets and solar power!

There is some sort of mental or political block involved to recoil from solar energy, and to even call it a “pipedream”, while it’s real technology available on store shelves and roof tops now. It’s no pie in the sky, but it may as well be if we make defensive reactions against smart changes that reduce pollution in our world and improve our energy generation options.

Solar Tour Regina
-Solar on another Regina apartment building.

SaskPower Inspiring People In The Past

SaskPower recently celebrated its 85th anniversary. Last year I suggested they have a party with the observation deck being made available to the public again, as it was intended when the building was constructed downtown.

“…going out on the observation deck on the 13th floor, it was thrilling. It really confirmed in my mind that I wanted to be an architect.” – Bernard Flaman (Provincial Heritage Architect)

No word from SaskPower about the obervation deck opening idea. I guess future architects will have to look elsewhere for inspiration.

“Our long-term plan calls for investments of $1 billion per year to renew and replace the power grid so we can support the province’s economic momentum,” said Watson.

It’s a little worrying that the SaskPower CEO sounds like an echo of a SaskParty Minister. I’d prefer the president of the power crown utility should be concerned that his preferred generation technique is a contributor to smog, climate change, and early death of thousands of people a year.

Failing that concern, maybe he’d at least open the former public observation deck, of the public’s crown utility, to the public again.

Also disappointing is the closure of the Legislative Building dome’s observation deck.

Public buildings should be open to the public again. There are generations of people who’ve not seen them, and felt they are a part of viewing the city as their parents and grandparents could.