Chinook Power Station is now open and online

New combined cycle natural gas plant fires up as Saskatchewan turns its eye to possible nuclear power

Swift Current – SaskPower officials and dignitaries marked the grand opening of the province’s newest natural gas-fired power plant on Dec. 6. The Chinook Power Station, located near Swift Current, was completed on-time and under budget and has been providing power to customers since mid-November, the Crown corporation said in a release.

“Chinook will play a vital role in our province’s future by providing the power needed to support the goals set in Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan,” Minister Responsible for SaskPower Dustin Duncan said. “The facility will provide highly efficient baseload power, which will support intermittent renewable energy and help SaskPower meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.”

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The 353-megawatt facility utilizes combined-cycle gas turbine technology and generates enough electricity to power 350,000 homes. Natural gas power is cost-effective and generates fewer carbon emissions than coal.

"We are pleased to report that this significant project was completed on time, and $75 million under budget,” said Mike Marsh, SaskPower president and chief Executive Officer. “Building this facility required more than two million labour hours, and thanks to the careful work of everyone involved, only one time-lost injury occurred.”

SaskPower is currently forecasting the final cost of the project to be $605 million, which is $75 million under budget. Major projects like Chinook carry contingency funds to cover events that impact schedule or cost. With Chinook, this fund was largely unused, the company said.

Building the facility created more than 500 jobs during the construction process with 25 workers to run the facility on a permanent basis going forward.

The power plant required the construction of a new 230 kilovolt transmission line. That Pasqua to Swift Current transmission line was energized in June. The project cost $260-million.

The 200-kilometre transmission line connects the Pasqua Switching Station east of Moose Jaw to the Swift Current Switching Station, west of Swift Current. The project replaced a decades-old 138kV line along the Trans Canada highway, and will help to meet the growing demand for power and increase service reliability to customers, SaskPower said in June.

Work on the line, which began in June 2018, took about 200,000 person-hours of work to complete.

The opening of Chinook comes at a time when the province has been quarrelling with the federal government over the application of the carbon tax, in particular, on combined cycle natural gas plants like Chinook. The carbon tax will be imposed on new combined cycle natural gas completed after 2021, but not Chinook. That federal decision, last June, prompted the provincial government to delay going forward with the next planned combined cycle natural gas power plant, at Moose Jaw. However, on Nov. 7, the provincial government announced it had decided to go ahead with the Moose Jaw plant.

While SaskPower has been focused on combined cycle natural gas for new power generation, on Dec. 1, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe signalled a profound shift may be coming, when he signed a memorandum of understanding with Ontario and New Brunswick on the development of small modular nuclear reactors for future power generation.

The shift away from conventional coal-fired power generation, which has long been Saskatchewan’s mainstay for baseload power, has been prompted by concerns over the greenhouse gas effects from the emissions of carbon dioxide. A combined cycle natural gas plant produces roughly half, or less, the carbon dioxide emissions compared to a comparable conventional coal-fired plant. A nuclear reactor would produce none. The federal government is moving to phase out conventional coal power generation across the country by 2030, which has led to considerable consternation in Estevan and Coronach, home of SaskPower’s coal-fired power station fleet.   

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