SENS postdoctoral fellow Martin Boucher.
SENS postdoctoral fellow Martin Boucher.

Panel provides refreshing discussion on renewable energy resources

Students, staff and faculty filled the Diefenbaker Canada Centre on January 15, where they had been brought together through the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) to get a glimpse of Saskatchewan’s future in renewable energy.

The panel discussion, organized by SENS PhD candidate Martin Boucher, featured six leaders from Saskatchewan's energy development community and beyond debating what is next for the prairie province.

"I originally started planning this event in September and was not sure if it was timely or not," Boucher said, adding that government announcements on renewable energy and warming targets in the interim brought important subjects to the forefront of public conversation—and created topics that would become pivotal to the panel.

"In that short time, the provincial government announced an ambitious plan to create 50 per cent of Saskatchewan's energy through renewables by 2030 and the federal government, along with 192 other countries, agreed on a 1.5 degree warming target. I think these two events created momentum for this topic."

Brett Dolter a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Ottawa's Institute of Environment who sat on the panel, emphasized carbon pricing, which would apply regulatory fees to carbon polluters on the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, as an equalizing measure when comparing energy development costs.

He looked to Alberta, where carbon pricing is planned at $30 per ton in 2018, as a possible model.

"As soon as you start to talk about carbon pricing, that becomes actually a cheaper pathway," Dolter said. "That's changed the economics of it, and actually might see that a thermal-based system might look more expensive than a renewable system with that carbon pricing in place."

While several of the panelists agreed that chasing the most cost-effective renewables would make for a decent first step, Ian Loughran, vice-president of projects and business development with First Nations Power Authority, mentioned wind power as a resource that is particularly appealing in Saskatchewan.

"We have great wind resources in the province. I think it goes without saying, and you can see it in the SaskPower plan on their website, the real first step is to hit wind," Loughran said.

"Find those spots that are a good wind resource—that don't sit in a migratory bird path, that have good geotechnics, where you can actually put foundations in the ground and they won't fall over in a swamp. I think that's really a part of the low-hanging fruit."

Other panellists included Mark Bigland-Pritchard, director of energy economics with the Ministry of the Economy of Saskatchewan, and Mike Balfour, director of energy economics for the Ministry of the Economy of Saskatchewan. Kevin Hudson, manager of metering and sustainable electricity with Saskatoon Light and Power, and Doug Opseth, director of supply planning and integration with SaskPower, also spoke on the panel.

The panelists were chosen both for their range of skills and their positions within the Saskatchewan community, said Boucher.

"My thought was to get representation from the government, both provincial and local utilities, environmental groups, academia and First Nations," explained Boucher. "We were lucky to get a group of great panelists to agree to participate; that, I am sure, played a large role in drawing the crowd."

With such a massive response from the U of S community, Boucher said that tentative plans are already underway to build upon the panel's success.

"I am planning a larger event, most likely in the form of a one-day conference, focused on a broader discussion of options and pathways for electricity generation in Saskatchewan. I think it is important to continue this conversation and bring as many perspectives in as possible," he said.

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