A Reliable Power Grid for Northern Saskatchewan

Year: 2014


Whereas a consistent and dependable electrical power service is critical to northern communities and their residents both for safety, and to promote economic diversification; and

Whereas there are a limited number of power lines in northern Saskatchewan, with most communities served by a single line (no "power grid" in northern Saskatchewan); and

Whereas power supplies to northern communities are often disrupted by either blackouts or brownouts; and Whereas such disruptions cause significant damage to municipal equipment and facilities such as water plants, sewage lift stations, and sewage treatment plants; and

Whereas the federal, provincial, and municipal governments have invested significant financial resources in the construction of these facilities;

Therefore be it resolved that the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association lobby the Saskatchewan Power Corporation to fully develop a power grid system to northern communities, or as an alternative, provide backup emergency generators in each community served by a single line.

Background: Twenty-four of the 25 northern municipalities only have one power line serving them. Storms and accidents that damage the line cut off power, and there is no way to reroute power to the community from another direction. This can leave communities without power for several days. In the winter, this creates a significant public safety risk since residents of the community are often left without any means of heating their houses. Only two of the 25 municipalities have natural gas service. In addition, the outages result in backups in municipal sanitary sewer systems which can damage facilities, homes and the environment.

Further, fluctuations in voltages on the single lines quite often cause damage to modern computer and electrical systems that control water treatment plants, sewage lift stations, and sewage treatment plants.

Municipalities, accessing funding from federal and provincial infrastructure programs have, over the last number of years, invested more than $120 million on upgrading water and sewer systems in northern communities. The inadequate power supplies to these communities places large portions of this investment at risk.

Provincial Response

Specifically to northern Saskatchewan, the I2P line, which ties the Athabasca area to the Island Falls generating station, was designed with the expectation of having 30-40 outages per year. At the time this was a great improvement for customers who moved off of diesel generation; however 25 years later, customer expectations have grown and this level of performance is no longer acceptable for customers served from the I2P line.

Significant funds have been spent in recent years to address improving operability and replace facilities in the north. SaskPower will continue to spend $1 billion annual replacing and upgrading its aging infrastructure in an effort to improve system reliability in the province. Projects such as the I1K transmission line project from Island Falls to Key Lake are being constructed and will improve the reliability to northern customers. SaskPower has also signed an agreement with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council to purchase power from a biomass generating facility in Meadow Lake starting in 2015. Other generation projects are also being considered in the La Ronge and Stony Rapids areas.

SaskPower is continually looking for cost effective ways of improving the reliability of northern communities. However, full expansion of the electrical grid in northern Saskatchewan would run into the $100s of millions and these costs would have to be recovered through the rate base. Long distances and relatively low electrical demands provide economic challenges to constructing additional infrastructure in the north.