Region 6 | Opinion

Saskatchewan can achieve net-zero electricity by 2035

The world is beginning to recognize the benefits of decarbonizing. We must stop burning fossil fuels to prevent dangerous climate change, but there are also many benefits from the necessary energy transition. 

Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, reaching record levels in 2021. The world remains on an unsustainable path. The United Nations Environment Programme projects global average warming of 2.6 degrees C based on the stated commitments of the international community to reduce emissions. The primary cause of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels. We need to reduce our impact and replace fossil fuel energy with clean energy.  

The prairies are warming and will continue to warm at twice the global average rate. Saskatchewan is likely to see well over 5 degrees C of warming by the end of this century without immediate action to reduce fossil fuel combustion. One would think that Saskatchewan would have double the ambition to  reduce emissions because we are expected to see twice as much warming as the global average, but  instead Saskatchewan has set 2050, not 2035, as its target for net-zero electrical grid.  

The federal government is aiming for the national electrical grid to be net-zero by 2035. The Canadian Energy Regulator recently published Canada’s Energy Futures 2023 which presents, for the first time,  net-zero scenarios where the entire Canadian economy achieves net-zero by 2050. While the NFU has 3 some reservations about the details of these proposed scenarios, decarbonizing our electricity grid by 2035 is an important part of the pathway to net zero. 

Rather than roll up our sleeves to do our part, Premier Moe and the Saskatchewan NDP opposition have  called the net-zero 2035 target for SaskPower “impossible” and “unrealistic.” While the rest of Canada has agreed and are making efforts to retire coal fired electrical generation by 2030, Saskatchewan recently  announced plans to run coal plans beyond 2030 to end of life (potentially 2042 for the Shand power  station). Saskatchewan has reneged on our commitment to end coal fired generation, signed over 4 years ago with the federal government. 

Saskatchewan has many options to decarbonize our electricity. We have the best solar resource in  Canada, excellent wind resources, and the potential to become a clean energy powerhouse exporting  renewable energy to other markets. The goal should be to build a clean, affordable, and reliable  electricity system that will attract business to Saskatchewan fostering a sustainable economy. 

Many studies (i.e. Canadian Climate Institute, David Suzuki Foundation, Trottier Energy Futures Project) demonstrate the viability of decarbonization. The most recent report released June 29, 2023 by the Pembina Institute finds that Alberta can decarbonize its grid by 2035 and it would be up to $28 billion cheaper than previous estimates. 

Zeroing In: Pathways to an affordable net-zero grid in Alberta examines six decarbonization scenarios. The report finds decarbonizing Alberta’s grid by 2035 would save Albertans more than $600 per  household in electricity costs annually, while reliably meeting electricity demand. In all of the scenarios,  Alberta – which historically and currently imports more electricity than it exports – becomes a net  exporter of electricity by 2025.7 

The Saskatchewan electrical grid is like Alberta’s in that we rely on coal and fossil gas generation. By transitioning to clean electricity generation, the savings to Saskatchewan households would be similar. Decarbonization makes sense and is not only possible, but necessary to achieve economy wide net-zero  emissions. 

All sectors of the economy need decarbonized electricity to reduce impacts and prevent dangerous  climate change. Agriculture also will benefit from decarbonized electricity to run equipment in livestock  barns, heat buildings, power water bowls, and run ventilation and aeration fans. Clean electricity also  provides the foundation for electrification of field equipment. Although it may be another decade before  electric field equipment is available, it is certainly coming. Saskatchewan people are proud to do our part  and we can certainly achieve a net-zero electrical grid by 2035. 

The climate crisis is a culture crisis and a crisis of imagination. We must commit to a decarbonized future and set course to that heading rather than pretending it is impossible or unrealistic. No one wants to follow a leader without ambition who says, “it can’t be done.” Saskatchewan people get things done, and  we can achieve net-zero electricity by 2035, and we will all be better for it! 

-The Region 6 (SK) Council of the National Farmers Union 

Photo by Tasha Lyn on Unsplash