What Doubling The Grid Really Means

Recently my daughter called me while on her way back from a Costco run in Regina, heading home to Weyburn. She noted that it appears they are twinning the highway […]
Published on February 4, 2024

Recently my daughter called me while on her way back from a Costco run in Regina, heading home to Weyburn.

She noted that it appears they are twinning the highway between Regina and Weyburn. Indeed, they are, I explained. And several years later, they’ll probably get it all the way to Weyburn. Maybe by the time I retire, if I live that long, they’ll get as far as Estevan.

Indeed, those timelines are likely pretty close to reality, if the twinning of Highway 16, from Saskatoon to Lloydminster, was any indication. I used to drive from Saskatoon to North Battleford to get the newspaper I was working for printed, with road construction for much of that. And it took several more years to complete the Battlefords to Lloydminster portion. I was fortunate enough to be present at the ceremony for that. It was significant enough that Premier Lorne Calvert came out.

Twinning a major highway is a substantial undertaking. Historically, Saskatchewan could usually only afford to work on three separate areas at a time, typically doing 20 kilometres per year in each stretch. That was all the provincial finances could handle.

By adding an additional two lanes, you are effectively doubling the capacity of that major piece of infrastructure. It’s not easy, not cheap, and not fast.

Now imagine if someone said in the next 25 years and 11 months, we must twin every single freeway, highway, grid road, street and alleyway, across the entire country, at the same time. And along the way, we have to replace up to 89 per cent of the existing infrastructure, as well, because it is no longer considered adequate.

You’d probably think they were living in a dreamland, or quite possibly stark raving mad.

And yet this is precisely what the federal government is proposing, nay, demanding, of Canadians from St. Johns to Victoria to Tuktoyaktuk.

In order to save the world from anthropogenic (manmade climate change) and attain a “Net Zero by 2050” economy, we must increase the size of the electrical grid by a factor of 2.5x. And for Saskatchewan and Alberta, who on any given day get up to 88 and 94 per cent of their power, respectively, from fossil fuels, they must also replace that existing gas and coal power generation with non-emitting sources, at the same time as they’re building out the truly massive expansion.

The first reference I saw of the federal Liberal government’s intentions of this was in the 2023 budget, which noted expanding the electrical grid by a factor of 2.2 to 3.4 times. By August, when they released the proposed Clean Electricity Regulations, the government seemed to settle on a factor of 2.5 times for the high demand scenario.

So in the highway twinning example, that would be adding three lanes, not two, to every two lane highway, grid road, street and alleyway. For an existing four lane highway, you would need to add six lanes. For a six lane freeway like Ontario’s 401, you’d need to add an additional nine lanes, finding the right of way space, concrete, rebar, gravel, and asphalt for all of this. Again, all at the same time, in 25 years and 11 months.

There are several thrusts that the federal government is pushing. First, by 2035, they want to totally eliminate gasoline and diesel from new light vehicle sales. There’s currently only eight retail hydrogen fueling stations listed by the federal government and Shell in the entire country. There could be more, but they’re not listed. Realistically this means battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs). But nearly all of those EVs will require charging at home each night (and especially during winter, pre-conditioning those batteries, keeping them warm).

So every residence in the country will require 30 amp chargers for cars, and 80 amp chargers for pickups.

But the government is also now moving away from fossil fuels for home, heating, too. This was indicative of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pause on the carbon tax for home heating oil (primarily used in Atlantic Canada, although I grew up in a house with that system). To do so, the feds are offering “free” installations of heat pumps (which are wholly inadequate at -30 temperatures, let alone the -44 seen in Alberta in mid-January). And those could be up to another 50 amps, per heat pump.

And that’s just residential, never mind commercial or industrial.

The Clean Electricity Regulations are meant to force fossil fuel power generation to go away. And since wind frequently drops to nothing, and the sun goes down every day, the only real alternative is massive expansion of nuclear power across Canada. We’re talking small modular reactors by the dozen in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and to a lesser extent, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

On Jan. 30, SaskPower announced a formalized agreement with General Electric-Hitachi for small modular reactors. But when I asked how many they plan on building, the CEO wouldn’t say. But he did speak of increasing the provincial grid from 5,400 megawatt now to 13,000 to 15,000 megawatts.

Hydro Quebec just released their plans to double their grid. Yet, perhaps miraculously, they’re not saying how many, if any, new dams will need to be built.

This doubling of the grid (actually 2.5x, but that’s not easy to say), means we’re going to need not only additional generation, but transmission lines, distribution lines, back alley pedestals, and wiring to every home, business and factory in the country. Where the materials come from? The contractors and workers? Will Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) be universally trampled on by eminent domain orders, for the good of the planet? Or will it be a continuation of Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything Syndrome (BANANAS)?

A very real example is the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The original was built in something like 16 months, from scratching dirt to oil flowing. The expansion is taking a hell of a lot longer. Work started in 2018, and it is still not done. Any change in the plan had to go back to the Canadian Energy Regulator. Some First Nations fought it every step of the way.

Now do this for every single piece of existing power infrastructure. Wrap your head around that for a minute.

This supposed energy transition, from fossil fuels to electric everything, does not work if you cannot build out the electrical infrastructure, everywhere, and essentially all at in the next 25 years and 11 months. Either the timelines need to be stretched to a generational scale, or more realistically, the whole concept needs to be entirely rethought.

As Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has said more than once, “We will not attempt the impossible when it comes to power production.”

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online, and occasional contributor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

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