Canada has switched on the first large-scale coal-fired power plant fitted with a technology that proponents say enables the burning of fossil fuels without tipping the world into a climate catastrophe.
The project, the first commercial-scale plant equipped with carbon capture and storage technology, was held up by the coal industry as a real life example that it is possible to go on burning the dirtiest of fossil fuels while avoiding dangerous global warming.
Saskatchewan’s state-owned electricity provider is due to cut the ribbon on the $1.3 billion Canadian project on Thursday. But officials from SaskPower International Inc told guests invited to the ceremony the 110 megawatt plant went live on Tuesday night.
The Boundary Dam power plant promises to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 90% by trapping C02 underground before the gas reaches the atmosphere – making its opening a milestone in the coal industry’s efforts to remain viable in a low-carbon economy.
The company said the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 million tons a year, or the equivalent of taking 250,000 cars off the road, in one of the more fossil fuel-dependent regions of Canada.
Captured CO2 from the Boundary Dam project will be pumped underground and sold to the Cenovus oil company for use in priming nearby oil fields, or buried in geological formations.
“Saskatchewan is number one in the world,” said Brad Page, the chief executive of the Global CCS Institute, said. “This is an incredibly important event from our perspective.”
Scientists from the United Nations climate panel said last year that without broad deployment of CCS technology most of the world’s fossil fuel will have to stay in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change.
Page was cautious however in predicting CCS technology deployed at Boundary Dam would soon be replicated on a large-scale.
He noted the Saskatchewan plant relies on a local source of coal – and on selling on the CO2 to the oil industry – to keep it in the black. Coal also faces intense competition from historically low prices for natural gas, which makes it prohibitively expensive to build new coal plants with CCS.