‘Come Get Me,’ Says SK Premier in Response to Federal Minister Citing Criminal Code on Coal Power

By Marnie Cathcart
Marnie Cathcart
Marnie Cathcart
Marnie Cathcart is a reporter based in Edmonton.
May 21, 2023Updated: May 22, 2023

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said “come get me” after the federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault on May 17 said the province would be in violation of the criminal code if it continues operating coal-fired electrical generation plants post 2030.

Guilbeault on May 17 had warned Moe that it will be illegal to run coal-fired power plants after 2030 unless they are equipped with carbon capture systems. He said that the federal government has already regulated the ban on coal through the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), which he said was a “criminal tool the federal government has,” and therefore “not complying with this regulation would be a violation of Canada’s Criminal Code.”

“If where we’ve come to in this country is when individuals in this province, or any other province, flicked their lights on or their furnace fan kicks in, and that’s deemed illegal and cause for someone to go to jail, come get me,” Moe said on May 18. “Saskatchewan’s plan for affordable, reliable power generation may require coal-fired generation beyond 2030.”

“We’re standing up for an affordable, reliable power supply here in Saskatchewan. None of those are provided by the federal net-zero plan.”

The premier said the province “will consider running” its fossil fuel-generated electricity production and facilities to the end of their life.

Net-Zero Regulations

Later this year, the federal government is expected to make public regulations meant to force provinces to meet the federal target. Ottawa already passed coal power regulations in 2018 stipulating that all coal power plants must be shut down, converted to natural gas, or equipped with carbon capture systems by the end of 2029.

Guilbeault’s comments follow a news conference two days earlier, on May 16, in which Moe said the Liberal government’s legal requirement that Saskatchewan establish a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 puts the province in an “impossible position,” noting that the policy is “unachievable” and “unaffordable.”

The premier said the province “will consider running our fossil fuel-generated electricity production and facilities to the end of their life” while continuing to evaluate that as part of Saskatchewan’s commitment to keep electricity rates affordable and to protect the reliability of its grid.

He said that how power is generated in Saskatchewan or any other province is under the jurisdiction of the province.

In a May 16 news release, Saskatchewan released its plan for electricity generation to 2035 and beyond, with a goal to reach net zero by 2050, 15 years later than what Ottawa demanded. Besides continuing to use natural gas plants and coal plants until the end of their lifespan, the province will also continue working toward small modular reactors and expanding intermittent power sources such as wind and solar.

“Running our assets that we have built out to the end of their life should not be illegal,” said Moe on May 18.

Policies ‘Not Based in Reality’

The latest annual national inventory report on greenhouse gas, released mid-April, indicates that Saskatchewan gets 40 percent of its electricity from coal and 44 percent from gas.

“The federal government continues to move ahead with policies that are quite simply not based in reality,” added the premier.

Moe said at the May 16 news conference that Saskatchewan cannot meet the federal government’s demand and would be faced with shutting down brand new natural gas plants.

He said the Saskatchewan Power Corporation operates 10 natural gas power plants, including the $605 million dollar Chinook Station in Swift Current that only began operations in 2019. Moe said the $708 million Great Plains Power Station will open in Moose Jaw in 2024.

The Liberal government’s target does not take into account that the province will not have enough baseload electricity generation to support its electrical grid and thereby support Saskatchewan families and industries that are employing these families.

“I want to be very clear about this. In Saskatchewan, we will not attempt the impossible when it comes to power production in our province. We will not risk plunging our homes, our schools, our hospitals, our special care homes, our businesses, into the cold and darkness because of the ideological whims of others,” said Moe.

“We will not increase power costs for our businesses and our families to the point where they become completely unaffordable. If we were to do that, we wouldn’t grow anything in Saskatchewan. We wouldn’t move anything. We wouldn’t go anywhere. And we’d get awful cold in a hurry,” he added.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.