Skip to main navigation.

NDAREC board tours carbon capture and storage facilities

Story and photos by Kent Brick

NDAREC Board tours SaskPower in Canada
NDAREC board members, and guests from affiliated organizations, toured SaskPower generation stations, and carbon capture and storage facilities, right photo. (Photo by Kent Brick) 

As part of its summer meeting, held last month in Crosby, the board of directors of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC) visited nearby carbon capture and storage facilities.

 NDAREC is the state organization serving the common interests of 16 local distribution cooperatives and five generation and transmission cooperatives doing business in North Dakota.

Robert Grant, Berthold, is president of the NDAREC board. Josh Kramer is NDAREC executive vice president and general manager; the July board meeting was his first board meeting since becoming the NDAREC chief executive July 1.

Burke-Divide Electric Cooperative, which serves rural residents and communities in the northwestern corner of the state, hosted the meeting.

The NDAREC board, with organizational allies, made the half-hour trip north of Crosby, across the Canadian border to visit SaskPower facilities, near Estevan, Saskatchewan.

There is interest in carbon capture and storage at power generation facilities among NDAREC member cooperatives. This interest is fueled by carbon emission reduction regulations called for in the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In September, a federal appeals court will hear arguments on the ultimate legality of the CPP. Although this legal review is expected to proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court – and may result in invalidation of the CPP – electric cooperatives are proceeding to gather information on removing and safely disposing of carbon in the coal-fired electric generation process.

SaskPower public information indicates SaskPower is the primary electricity provider in the Saskatchewan province. Almost 50 percent of the electricity generated in the province uses coal as a fuel source. SaskPower currently has three coal-fired plants in two Saskatchewan communities:

• Boundary Dam Power Station (Estevan)

• Shand Power Station (Estevan)

• Poplar River Power Station (Coronach)

The NDAREC board toured the carbon capture and storage process equipment that is now a feature of the Boundary Dam Station. This equipment became operational in 2014. It is the world’s first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) process at a coal-fired power plant.

At the dedication of the CCS facilities at Boundary Dam Station, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said: “Over the past six years, Saskatchewan has become a global hub of innovation, especially in agriculture, mining, oil and gas, and now carbon capture and storage.” He said the rest of the world is interested to learn how they, too, can produce environmentally sustainable coal power.

When fully optimized, SaskPower’s new process will capture up to a million tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road. The power unit equipped with CCS technology will continue to use coal to power approximately 100,000 Saskatchewan homes and businesses. The captured carbon dioxide will be used for enhanced oil recovery, with the remainder stored safely and permanently deep underground and continuously monitored.

On the occasion of the launch of CCS processes at SaskPower, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, from North Dakota, said: “The opening of this new SaskPower plant reinforces the great innovation and development that can take place if you have strong investment and partnerships from the government and industry.”

“From my more than a decade working at Dakota Gasification in North Dakota,” Heitkamp continued, “I understand just how important it is that we look to the future in how we harness our energy. Coal is a key resource in both Canada and the U.S., and through the development of clean coal technology, we can create North American independence and energy security, while also reducing emissions.”

While at the location of these SaskPower facilities, the NDAREC board also viewed the new SaskPower Carbon Capture Test Facility (CCTF), which was officially launched in 2015. Built in partnership with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd., the CCTF is a high-tech laboratory that uses a small amount of exhaust (flue) gas from the neighboring Shand Power Station. This allows researchers to test carbon capture equipment, chemical innovation or engineering designs in a highly controlled environment.

“It was Burke-Divide Electric’s pleasure to facilitate a tour of the SaskPower facilities,” said Lynn Jacobson, a member of the Burke-Divide Electric board of directors. Jacobson represents electric cooperatives in North Dakota on the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association board of directors, and holds the NRECA seat on the NDAREC board of directors.

“With the potential effects of the Clean Power Plan looming on the horizon,” Jacobson said, “we must take a look at ways to reduce the carbon emissions so that we may continue to use our abundant, affordable and reliable fuel source that coal provides for our members. We are grateful that SaskPower went above and beyond our expectations in showing us this groundbreaking carbon capture and storage technology that they have been developing.”

Public opinion survey: power supply preferences

Earlier this year, NDAREC commissioned its biennial public opinion survey of North Dakota adults; what North Dakotans prefer for power supply resources was a part of this year’s survey.

This telephone survey, which NDAREC has sponsored biennially since 2000, probes public opinion of electric utility services, and of selected public issues. The 2016 edition of the survey reached 524 randomly selected North Dakotans, and was administered by the Applied Research Center in the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration.

Even though changes in the use of coal for electric generation are being considered, North Dakotans hold to the view that it is a very economical energy source.

When asked about the lowest-cost sources of energy, 31 percent of survey respondents believe coal currently produces electricity at the lowest-cost, followed, in order, by wind (21 percent), solar (16 percent), natural gas (12 percent) and nuclear (11 percent).

When asked for attitudes about electric power generation projects proposed for areas in which they live, survey respondents said the following: 30 percent strongly support; 40 percent somewhat support; 7 percent somewhat oppose; 8 percent strongly oppose.