By The StarPhoenix
Saskatchewan's aging power grid needs a major overhaul during the next decade to ensure a reliable supply of power, president and CEO of SaskPower Robert Watson says.
"We know there is a problem with the grid and know we have to make it better and more reliable, but it's not going to happen overnight," Watson said.
The biggest challenge in maintaining grid infrastructure is simply the massive geographic size of the province. Watson says Saskatchewan, with a population of 1.1 million, has as many transmission lines as Ontario, which has 14 million people.
Wooden power poles in the province are aging and will be replaced, Watson said.
"There are over 1.1 million wooden power poles in the province, and most of them all need replacing," he said. "We have a program to replace 110,000 per year."
Saskpower will spend around $1 billion per year on infrastructure investments to enhance grid stability, Watson said. This will include new transmission lines into the province's north and a $38-million line from Saskatoon to Aberdeen.
Watson delivered the remarks at a North Saskatoon Business Association lunch last week.
Last year, Saskatchewan set a new record for power consumption, Watson said. This is due to a growing population and more power usage per capita.
"Energy consumption went up eight per cent last year," he said. "I assure you this province is not slowing down in its power consumption at all."
A number of new power generation projects are coming online now or in the coming years, including the Boundary Dam expansion, a project in the Battlefords and upgrades to Saskatoon's Queen Elizabeth power station.
These projects will provide enough power until around 2020, Watson said, when new projects will be needed.
"It will probably be a gas facility, either in the Swift Current area or the Saskatoon area, or both," he said.
Further power supply could be purchased from Manitoba, which has a surplus of power from hydro projects and sells at good prices, Watson said.
Into the future, Saskatchewan will continue to rely on coal as a major energy source, Watson said.
"We're sitting on a 300-year supply, and when it spills, you just pick it back up," he said.
In October, SaskPower announced it will hike power rates by 5.5 per cent next year and five per cent for the following two years.
To keep rates from rising even higher, Watson said he is reducing costs everywhere possible, and saved $134 million in 2013.
"In order for us to ensure we get a positive bottom line, we have to watch our costs," he said. "I want to run the company like an enterprise."
A public awareness campaign motivating people to reduce consumption should help manage power usage, Watson said, as will the installation of 500,000 smart meters by the end of 2015.
"You cannot take advantage of a smart grid - the operational efficiencies and safety measures - without having the entire grid end-to-end smart metered," he said.