I was just listening to British Columbia Premier John Horgan talk on Dec. 5 about CleanBC, his government’s climate change plan. Of particular interest was his reference to mandating zero emissions vehicles by 2040, in just 21 years. He’s aiming at electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
And then I thought back to Dec. 4, when Saskatchewan had one of its greatest power outages ever. The most recent one of that scale was in the early 1980s, although we did have a big one in June.
Estevan was fortunate. Our power was out for about 25 minutes. That’s probably because if Estevan doesn’t have power, pretty much no one will have power, due to the two nearby coal-fired power plants. Both of them, Shand and Boundary Dam Power Stations, and the Poplar River Power Station at Coronach, went down due to heavy frost taking down transmission lines. With nowhere to send power, they tripped off. We soon saw what happens in Saskatchewan without coal-fired power. We lose almost half of our power generating capacity, and a huge chunk of the province goes dark.
A heroic effort by SaskPower workers, some of whom are my neighbours, got those power plants up again, and found ways to patch together the grid after hundreds of thousands of people spent a good chunk of a winter’s day in the dark.
I then thought of Horgan’s initiative to rid us, or at least B.C., of gasoline and diesel-powered light vehicles. If they go, so, too, will the gas station infrastructure that supports them.
After all, “Just over 20 years from now, all new light-duty cars and trucks sold in British Columbia will run on clean electricity from batteries or hydrogen fuel cells,” according to the CleanBC full report.
Now what happens if you end up with a scenario like Saskatchewan just endured? How do the linemen, in their pickups, go out and fix the grid if their batteries are running low? Where do the superchargers get the juice to charge these absolutely critical vehicles? And how do you recharge vehicles in the field working 16 or more hours straight, with heat going and motors running? It’s not like you can top them up with a tidy tank. And what if it’s not -12 C, but -43 C? How do you fix the grid?
You don’t. Now we’re in an apocalyptic death spiral where nothing works. You can’t charge the vehicles once their batteries die. You can’t fix the grid without vehicles. Do you cue the zombies next? Call in reinforcements from a neighbouring jurisdiction? How do they fuel their fleet, with no gas stations?
What did hospitals in the region turn to during the blackout? Diesel generators. Okay, maybe diesel might be around still (for the transport trucks). But how many people, on Dec. 4, pulled out their gasoline-powered generators when the blackout started to get uncomfortable?
And if our electrical grid is so fragile that twice in six months, most of southeast Saskatchewan went dark, and all three coal-fired power plants tripped off and went down due to weather, how will it cope when each and every garage has a battery charger in it? Will we have to double our grid’s capacity? Triple it?
Let’s do a thought experiment. The Regina Refinery Complex is capable of processing 135,000 barrels per day of oil, the bulk of which is consumed in Saskatchewan, but also in Alberta and Manitoba. Wherever it is consumed, if we were to replace that energy with electrical energy, we would need, get this, 219,807,000 kilowatt hours of electrical power, per day. That would be 9,158 megawatts of electrical generating capacity required to replace the energy of 135,000 bpd of oil. SaskPower currently has 4,493 megawatts of capacity – and that have to be running at 100 per cent capacity, since the consumption of 135,000 bpd is 100 per cent.
So we would need three times more power generating capacity then we have right now. Put another way, we would have to build NINE 1,000 megawatt nuclear power stations to replace that much oil consumption with electrical energy. Or we could just build the eight unit Bruce Nuclear Station (6,234 megawatts) one and a half times, and hope it never goes down. Ever.
All of this is to replace the energy output of just one refinery, in Regina. How many more nukes will you need to replace Edmonton’s refinery row?
But let’s get back to more practical considerations.
I never thought of this before - how do people who do not own their own parking spot, charge their vehicles? What if they must park on the street? Or in an apartment parking lot? Where will they charge their SUVs and pickups? Since GM and Ford don’t plan on making many cars anymore, how much juice is going to be needed to charge all these electric pickups?
Even if a miracle occurs in the next few years in battery capacity, there will be no miracles on the grid and electrical capacity side.
Horgan’s 2040 plan will never work.
Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.