Climate change energy futures in business, industry and mining in Saskatchewan, Canada

Margot Hurlbert (Department of Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Regina, Regina, Canada)
Tanushree Das (Department of Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Regina, Regina, Canada)
Charisse Vitto (Department of Sociology and Social Studies, University of Regina, Regina, Canada)

International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management

ISSN: 1756-8692

Article publication date: 27 October 2023

Issue publication date: 2 February 2024

315

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to report business preferences for achieving net-zero power production emissions in Saskatchewan, Canada as well as business perceptions of the most preferable power production sources, barriers to change and suggestions for improvement. Mixed methods included focus groups and a survey with experimental design. This research demonstrates that this method of advancing academic and business knowledge systems can engender a paradigmatic shift to decarbonization.

Design/methodology/approach

The study is a mixed-methods study using five focus groups and a survey which included a 15-min information video providing more information on power production sources (small modular reactors and biomass). Participants requested more information on these topics in the initial three focus groups.

Findings

There is a significant gap in Canadian Government targets for net-zero emissions by 2050 and businesses’ plans. Communications, knowledge and capacity gaps identified include lack of regulatory requirements, institutional barriers (including a capacity charge in the event a business chooses to self-generate with a cleaner source) and multi-level governance dissonance. More cooperation between provincial governments and the federal government was identified by participants as a requirement for achieving targets. Providing information to survey respondents increased support for clean and renewable sources, but gender and knowledge are still important characteristics contributing to support for different power production sources. Scientists and teachers were the most trusted sources of information. Power generated from small modular nuclear reactors was identified as the primary future source of power production followed by solar, wind and natural gas. Research results also confirmed the high level of support for hydropower generated in Saskatchewan versus import from Manitoba based on high values of energy solidarity and security within the province.

Originality/value

This study is original, as it concerns upstream system power production portfolios and not failed projects; the mixed-method research design including a focus group and an experimental survey is novel. This research partially addresses a gap in knowledge surrounding which knowledge systems advance paradigmatic shifts and how and whether involving business people in upstream power production decisions can inform decarbonization.

Keywords

Citation

Hurlbert, M., Das, T. and Vitto, C. (2024), "Climate change energy futures in business, industry and mining in Saskatchewan, Canada", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 44-62. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCCSM-04-2023-0057

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Margot Hurlbert, Tanushree Das and Charisse Vitto.

License

Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial & non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode


1. Introduction

The World Economic Forum’s top risks include failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and natural disasters from extreme weather (World Economic Forum, 2023). Climate change impacts (including increasing frequency and intensity of drought and flood) are projected to worsen (IPCC, 2021a). Although we are on a path upwards of 3°C, with significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions well below 2°C are still achievable, power production and the business sector play a pivotal role (IPCC, 2021b).

Multiple low-carbon electricity generation technologies (including solar photovoltaics, wind and batteries) have reduced in cost and increased in application, but deployment is still far below what is needed to reach 100% by 2050 (IPCC, 2022a). Industry emissions have continued to increase, driven by global demand for basic materials, and locked-in emissions may continue for decades. Although many net-zero targets have been set, policies to achieve them are not yet in place (IPCC, 2022b). To limit global warming to below 2°C and approaching 1.5°C requires reductions in emissions in all sectors, substantial reductions in fossil fuel consumption, near elimination of coal without carbon capture and storage (CCS) and increase in electrification (thus power generation) (IPCC, 2022a, p. 142).

Saskatchewan is an ideal case study for reducing GHG emissions in the power production sector. Saskatchewan has historically relied on high-GHG-emitting lignite coal for its power production, and its large mining and industrial sector require 70% of provincial power production (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2020; Hurlbert et al., 2020). In Saskatchewan, business and industry are important sectors in addressing climate change. Saskatchewan’s economy is primarily fueled by potash, uranium, oil and gas mining and agriculture and has some of the highest emissions per gross domestic product in Canada.

We know that science alone will not solve the complex problem of climate change. People, organizations and businesses play an important role in the transition from fossil fuels and achieving net-zero emissions in the power production system (Shaw and Corner, 2017), and as a consequence, social science is increasingly important (Pellizzone et al., 2017, 2019; Gillard et al., 2016). There is considerable literature confirming that changing values, ideas and paradigms to achieve transformations to address climate change entails peoples’ participation and social learning (Scoones et al., 2020). However, there is a gap in knowledge surrounding the new kinds of formalized knowledge systems (universities and research institutes) to achieve the paradigmatic shifts in science–society relations required to address climate change and reduce GHG emissions (Fazey et al., 2020).

Voluntary commitments made by businesses, including commitments in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) indicators, have not resulted in a major push in investments towards green activities, nor reduced global GHG emissions. As a result, other initiatives have started. Non-state actors (including businesses and industry) have stepped up in establishing net-zero pledges, setting high integrity standards to increase credibility and ensure against “greenwashing” (United Nations’ High-Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, 2022). However, there is no conclusive evidence that an increase in engagement with businesses results in pro-mitigation outcomes (IPCC, 2022a) or an understanding of how involving people in upstream power production planning can inform pathways to decarbonization (Stoddart et al., 2020; Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020; Pidgeon et al., 2014) and what are acceptable pathways for business communities (Linzenich et al., 2020).

This research partially addresses the knowledge gap regarding knowledge systems advancing paradigmatic shifts and how and whether involving business people in upstream power production decisions can advance decarbonization. This research answers the questions:

RQ1.

What preferences do Saskatchewan businesses have for power production pathways to achieve net-zero emissions in the future?

RQ2.

Does more information about power production technologies (small modular reactors [SMRs] and geothermal) change preferences of business to future power production deployment and advance decarbonization?

Literature on transformation, place theory, social learning and stakeholder engagement is reviewed, followed by a description of the case study and an explanation of the research methods. After discussing research results that document transformational learning, the article concludes with the results of the research outlined, followed by a discussion that concludes the study.

2. Social learning, transformative change and place attachment

The increasing risks of climate change can be significant drivers of climate mitigation and adaptation for companies. These risks include extreme events and associated changes in supply chain resilience, customer base and health and safety of employees (Surminski, 2013). Some businesses see climate risk mitigation as a financial opportunity: voluntary programs (that include legal binding emission reduction targets) have resulted in financial and stock improvements within the first year (Boulatoff et al., 2012; Gans and Hintermann, 2013). Proactive actions in anticipation of future legislation enhance business strategies and advance innovation, allowing early movers to emerge as industrial climate leaders (Gans and Hintermann, 2013). However, Chin et al. (2019) concluded that the private sector is lagging in both climate mitigation and adaptation. Reasons might include the lack of incentives provided by local, regional and federal governments to pursue adaptation and disaster planning; some businesses focus more on the short-term benefits of climate change, including longer shoulder seasons and milder temperatures increasing tourism. Another explanation might be that companies are ignorant of the probability and severity of climate risks and their associated costs (Goldstein et al., 2019). These deficits can contribute to thin resilience plans and inconsequential investments and research (Teicher, 2018).

Transformative change distinguishes itself from path-dependent and incremental change in relation to both the depth and breadth of change required to qualify as “transformative”. For the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2021), it is “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values” (Schmeller and Bridgewater, 2021). For the IPCC (2022a), it is “change in the fundamental attributes of natural and human systems”. For some, it involves the achievement of end goals, such as eradicating poverty, hunger and inequality (United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Transforming our World), achieving a fairer balance of power (IPCC, 2022a) or disrupting environmental degradation (UN Environment, 2019). Social scientists focus on holistic changes in worldviews that result in behavioural and institutional reforms in multiple dimensions and scales (O’Brien, 2018; Tàbara et al., 2018; Patterson et al., 2017), often focusing on socio-technical systems (Rohracher, 2018). Advancing plurality and social differentiation is identified by social scientists as important in advancing and enacting sustainability transformations and challenging existing structures and dynamics of power (Blythe et al., 2018).

Technological innovation is a key component of transformation discussions (Linnér and Wibeck, 2021; UN Environment, 2019). Transformation required to address climate change requires a shift in formalized knowledge systems at the scale of the enlightenment and the speed of the scientific and technological revolution that accompanied the Second World War (Fazey et al., 2020). Currently universities and research institutes are failing humanity in achieving the level of change needed to address climate change and need to be more “collaborative, open, diverse, egalitarian and able to work with values and systemic issues” (Fazey et al., 2020). Rapidly scaling innovation, challenging deeply held assumptions and creating a global knowledge commons are all required (Fazey et al., 2020). People’s perceptions of risk and benefits surrounding new energy technologies and sources of power production are important in relation to the advancement and acceptance of new clean energy technologies and energy infrastructure (Osazuwa-Peters et al., 2020; Linzenich et al., 2020). Exploring people’s understandings and perceptions of decarbonized energy technologies is implicitly linked to their cultures and lifestyles (Pellizzone et al., 2019; Manzella et al., 2019; Moezzi et al., 2017; Sovacool et al., 2015). In the context of the ever-increasing risk of climate change, more knowledge is required of the new kinds of formalized knowledge systems (universities and research institutes) that can achieve paradigmatic shifts in science–society relations emissions (Fazey et al., 2020).

Agency is a fundamental requirement in achieving the necessary “tipping” point for achieving the fundamental societal transformations (technological, behavioural and political) necessary for climate change mitigation (Stadelmann-Steffen et al., 2021). Actors add complexity to an analysis of the processes of change, as their preferences are rarely homogenous but rather heterogeneous. Because of this, understanding how and why a social system tips is important and crucially related to learning in adopting new ideas or strategies and effecting policy change (Smith et al., 2020). Advances in social learning – learning that happens within and by groups of people – have been shown to occur with involvement in decision-making surrounding power production preferences in the context of climate change (Hurlbert, 2022; Stoddart et al., 2020; Hurlbert and Gupta, 2015).

Place-based characteristics are key determinants of power production perceptions and understanding of decision-making in relation to power production (Hurlbert, 2022). Place-based characteristics generate attachments of people and their communities to their socio-physical environment, underpinning their identity and providing behavioural, affective and cognitive ties between individuals and groups (Brown and Perkins, 1992). Because of this, the construction of a new power production source such as a wind farm or nuclear plant may or may not be successful, depending on how the new infrastructure aligns with people’s place perception in that area (Venables et al., 2012; Devine-Wright, 2011). Other aspects of place include energy resource endowment and provincial income inequality, which impacts whether a favourable economic environment exists for transitions (Sun et al., 2022). This same place attachment can also help explain a community’s perceptions surrounding components of whole future power production system portfolios in the context of climate change (Hurlbert et al., 2020; Hurlbert, 2022; Pidgeon et al., 2014). Upstream power production decisions are inherently place-based (Hurlbert et al., 2020; Hurlbert, 2022). More research is required to understand how to engage with businesses for pro-mitigation outcomes (IPCC, 2022a; Stoddart et al., 2020; Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020; Pidgeon et al., 2014) and what are acceptable pathways for business communities (Linzenich et al., 2020).

3. Methods: case study of Saskatchewan power production

Saskatchewan makes for an interesting case study in relation to power production and achieving netzero emissions in line with the Canadian pledge to do so by 2050. Saskatchewan is experiencing warming; the average annual number of days over 30°C are anticipated to increase by 36.2 days from the years 1976–2005 to 2051–2080 (Prairie Climate Centre, 2019). Seventy years ago, the government-owned vertical power production monopoly supplier, SaskPower, linked disparate municipal power utilities together with transmission lines (Hurlbert et al., 2010). With North American deregulation of the industry and due to its reliability agreements and obligations with its neighbouring states and provinces, it has adapted to accommodate more independent power producers and trading of power generation (Hurlbert et al., 2010). However, it still retains its exclusive franchise of production, distribution and supply through most of the province.

Blessed by abundant reserves of lignite coal in the south of the province and cursed by the absence of abundant hydroelectric resources (existing in the neighbouring province of Manitoba), its future pathway to net-zero emissions is not clear. It is a challenging case study for achieving a net-zero emission power production system. In total, 70% of its generation has been provided by lignite coal (The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2020), but after 2030, only coal with CCS will be allowed to operate (Canada Energy Regulator, 2020). Since achieving the first power production CCS power plant at Boundary Dam in 2016, it has not expanded CCS in the province (Hurlbert et al., 2020). SaskPower has built natural gas power plants for the past several decades, but after 2024, these plants will also no longer be available unless accompanied by CCS [1]. Wind and solar have been added to the Saskatchewan power production fleet, and more projects are being commissioned [2]. SaskPower’s current generation mix appears in Figure 1. SaskPower’s future generation is limited to renewable or clean energy technologies.

In Saskatchewan, its mining sector (potash and uranium) boasts some of the world’s largest production outputs and known reserves; oil and gas mining, agriculture and forestry are hallmarks of the Saskatchewan economy (Saskatchewan Government, 2023). Small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) make up 98.9% of business enterprises in Saskatchewan and participate prominently in the agriculture (26.5%), finance, insurance, real estate (19%), business services (9.1%) and construction (7.9%) industries (Ministry of Trade and Export Development, 2022). Although companies are increasingly committing to reduce GHGs and some to achieve net-zero targets, underperformance and credibility gaps are being experienced (Zerotracker, 2022).

The federal government initially led strategy development surrounding SMRs with a roadmap and action plan that was followed by four provinces – Saskatchewan, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta – signing a memorandum of understanding and developing a strategy for advancing SMRs (Governments of Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta and Saskatchewan, 2022). While Ontario and New Brunswick currently rely on large nuclear plants for the majority of their power production needs, Alberta and Saskatchewan do not. The plan reflects the first grid-scale SMRs operating in Ontario by 2028, followed by two in New Brunswick, and thereafter more deployed in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

To investigate the perceptions of Saskatchewan businesses regarding future power production sources, a mixed-methods approach was used. The study commenced with five focus groups aimed at exploring the views of business representatives on pathways to decarbonization and GHG reduction, aligning with Canada’s global climate change commitments. All focus groups followed the same format. After introductions, participants were asked about their businesses’ goals to reduce GHG emissions, the means being used to achieve goals, support for electrification of end-use (transportation, building heating and industrial processes)and what the province’s power supply mix should look like in 2050. The questions were semi-structured, and participants were able to answer the questions very broadly, or specifically, as they saw fit.

Initially, three focus groups were conducted with large industrial customers in the province. The first focus group took place in August 2020 and involved six mining industry representatives, while the subsequent two industrial focus groups were held in February 2021, with eight participants each. Participants were selected from the largest mining and industrial power production consumers in the province.

Subsequently, two additional focus groups were conducted with small- to medium-sized Saskatchewan businesses in two phases. In Phase I, a survey was administered to Saskatchewan businesses by randomly selecting contacts from a Saskatchewan business directory in March 2021. Participants who expressed interest in attending the focus group discussions were contacted for the Phase II of the research. To ensure a representative sample, businesses were recruited based on factors such as location, size, industry, gender and age. The Phase II involved two 90-min online chat-based focus groups conducted in April 2021. The steps used in our study appear in Figure 2.

The participants for the focus groups were selected based on specific criteria related to their industry (knowledge of power production, climate change and environment and business policy) and relevance to the research topic. An expert facilitator moderated the focus groups. The discussions during the focus groups were meticulously recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically.

In total, 283 respondents with the profile illustrated in Figure 3 answered the survey. The survey was conducted in two stages. Firstly, we asked a series of questions, which appear in Appendix, and then participants watched a 15-min presentation about climate change and achieving net-zero emissions with information about biomass energy and SMRs. We chose these two sources because participants in the initial three focus groups expressed less knowledge about these sources as compared to wind, solar and hydroelectricity. Our quantitative and qualitative data allowed us to triangulate our research findings (Carter et al., 2014). By using this comprehensive mixed-methods approach, incorporating focus groups and online surveys, the study aimed to better understand the new kinds of knowledge systems that achieve paradigmatic shifts and how the involvement of business people might advance transformative pathways of decarbonization.

The limitations of the research are that it is situated in the place context of Saskatchewan, Canada. Other case studies in different locations may yield different results.

4. Findings

Our findings confirm that this knowledge system of academics and business interaction advances transformational change. Focus groups provided initial information of barriers to decarbonization and specific information deficits (Sections 4.1 and 4.2). Providing this information through an experimental survey then supported improved support for clean and renewable technology (Section 4.3), evidencing transformational decarbonization change.

In exploring what preferences businesses have for achieving net-zero power production emissions, our focus group discussions exposed dissonance in relation to the goal of net-zero power production. Although the federal Canadian Government has set a goal for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 (enshrined in the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act of 29 June 2021), this goal is not reflected in the business plans of Saskatchewan businesses. This incongruence will first be discussed, including the barriers in reducing business GHG emissions, followed by preferences in the mix of power production to reduce emissions in the future.

4.1 Climate risk and target dissonance

4.1.1 The discrepancy in climate mitigation targets.

The Canadian Government has made achieving Paris commitments – to maintain global warming below 2°C, approaching 1.5°C – a priority. However, less than one-half of survey respondents viewed climate change as an immediate and emergent problem, and three in ten doubt that climate change is an issue or even exists. Focus group results confirm that the Canadian federal government goals have not yet been implemented in businesses.

Many of the focus group participants did not have GHG emission reduction targets. Of those who did, their targets appear in Table 1. When discussing their businesses’ ESG goals, participants often stated that it was imperative that they set realistic and achievable targets. These participants were inevitably referring to ESG goals of increasing efficiency. Mining participants acknowledged that the Canadian climate change targets were not reflected in Canadian mining company strategies. The fundamental driver of all decisions is related to cost. Realistically their current energy infrastructure and infrastructure development would not let them achieve a target of net zero. Oil and gas companies had targets as a result of public pressure. However, these companies were not as focused on Canada’s net-zero target as they were on the cap on oil and gas currently being negotiated with the federal government.

Participants stated that the government alone would have to establish such a goal and that it would not originate with industry or mining. Furthermore, to achieve that target, they would require significant government support. Several participants cited the reasons for lack of activity as the fact Saskatchewan industry contributed such a small proportion to global GHG emissions and the need to retain international trade competitiveness (by keeping costs low and not requiring expensive technologies and practices reducing GHG emissions).

Climate goals were difficult in Saskatchewan given its mix of power production supply and lack of abundant hydro (as opposed to British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec). The mining focus group agreed that to achieve climate goals, electrification would be required of everything including nuclear power and potentially hydrogen. Other focus group participants admitted not knowing a lot about hydrogen. Participants in all focus groups were generally favourable to nuclear energy and believed that the cost would not be too high because of the uranium mining in the province and its high efficiencies. Participants commented:

Saskatchewan always seems like a great place for nuclear plants because of all the mining (uranium) that we do here. (industrial focus group)

We think that a clear pathway to net zero would be renewable supported with some kind of clean baseload electricity like nuclear. Given the province’s electricity requirements and infrastructure, currently and what they would like in the future, it would seem like small modular reactor may be more suitable […]. (mining focus group)

4.1.2 The knowledge and capacity gap.

In a majority of focus groups, there was little knowledge or understanding of the legislative development for achieving net-zero emissions by the federal government. Participants (often the head of the environmental division) were well versed in ESG targets and reporting but did not have much knowledge of international agreements or increasing obligations for climate change financial reporting for companies listed on major stock exchanges including the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosure.

Several discussions occurred in the focus groups regarding differing terminology and problems of monitoring, measurement, verification and reporting. Participants thought increasing focus on reduction of GHG emissions did not align with the business goals of increasing efficiency and reducing consumption. Participants observed that this resulted in confusion and lack of action. Furthermore, these strategies were described as “not sitting well with industry”. One of the participants made a remark:

There’s the language around power energy consumption, efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions that is spoken at a level of SaskPower and large energy emitters and there is a culture there that is maybe not understood at a business level – a commercial building or a business like Brandt operates within. So, there is a disconnect there. Sometimes what we look at is the consumption, how that translates to greenhouse emissions, which is the language that is used by other parts; the whole drive towards being more energy friendly, there is a gap there. Sometimes this disconnect isn’t considered when programs are put together for carbon reduction targets. So sometimes that does not resonate at the ground level with the businesses, consumers, operators which are actually involved in the staff at the ground level. So, bridging that gap would probably be a good focus of policy or programs that are to come down the road.

Focus group participants also identified that there was both a knowledge and a capacity gap in relation to solutions for net-zero emissions. Firstly, participants stated many businesses did not know about possible technologies that might assist, and certain technologies could not be implemented because of the utility electricity service provider. The specific example given was virtual net energy metering. Because there is no net energy metering, federal efficiency funding was unattainable.

Secondly, participants identified major discrepancies in GHG accounting. Not only were the methods and techniques highly debated, but so too were verification and reporting. This is consistent with a recent study that found methane emissions from the USA and Canadian natural gas systems much larger than those reported (Brandt et al., 2014). Participants shared their opinion on the barriers and technical knowledge gap. They commented:

In addition to having problems with monopoly energy and monopoly electricity companies, I think we have a bit of an issue with the political direction of those companies. I do not think the people doing the political directing of those companies have any understanding […] of the problem in hand here and I don’t think they have much interest in trying to solve this problem because they do not perceive it to be a political item that matters to them.

4.2 Problematic short-term decision-making

One of the major barriers identified for reducing GHG emissions was the fact business strategy and resulting decisions were only modelled into the future for ten years or less. Because built infrastructure of business was amortized over 20–50 years, there was no incentive to decommission highly emitting infrastructure inconsistent with net-zero goals. Examples and explanation follow.

4.2.1 Problems-only regulation can fix.

Participants recited a few examples to illustrate both the short-term decision-making and the need for regulations to fix part of the problem. The first related to a motor used on site that broke down. A decision of whether to fix the old motor or replace it with a new motor that was less GHG emitting was driven by cost. Instead of replacing the motor with one that would reduce emissions, it was merely fixed. The increased cost and GHG reductions could not be justified given the short-term decision-making parameters. In this situation, the participant stated what was needed was a regulation that required old carbon-emitting equipment to be replaced. Another example cited was that of insulated structures. Because companies often are allowed favourable exemptions for existing infrastructure, inefficient insulated structures continue to be used without being replaced. These findings confirm other studies where many countries have focused overly on renewable sources and not the science and technology for saving energy (Jia et al., 2021a); this strategy has been found inadequate for achieving reductions (Jia et al., 2021b). It would appear that many environmental managers know what good environmental decisions are but are prevented from making them due to short timelines used to justify cost and profit requirements.

4.2.2 The latent impact of monopoly profit-driven power production planning.

The Crown Corporation, SaskPower, has a legislated monopoly for the production, transmission and distribution of electricity within the province of Saskatchewan by law (The Power Corporation Act, R.S.S. 1978, C. P-19). This monopoly status was created in the mid-20th century when the province set about amalgamating disparate city and industry power production suppliers (Hurlbert et al., 2010). By purchasing both existing power production facilities and transmission and distribution systems, SaskPower was able to expand power production, improve reliability and provide service to the majority of Saskatchewan residents (ibid.). Although the act has been changed due to deregulation and requirements of its membership in the North American electricity reliability organizations, it has retained its status, and only two cities, Swift Current and Saskatoon, are able to contemplate purchase of power from other sources. Being one of the last North American vertical monopoly power producers still bringing significant benefits to Saskatchewan, it has some latent unintended implications in relation to the reduction of GHGs.

As the sole supplier, it is responsible for supplying power to all Saskatchewan residents and businesses. As a result, focus group participants identified that it had little incentive to reduce its sales and allow industry to self-generate or benefit from co-generation or processes that supply heat. One focus group representative stated that Manitoba allowed efforts to self-generate to reduce GHG emissions (including solar power generation), but the same initiatives were not allowed in Saskatchewan. In fact, the participants stated that they would be “penalized” if they implemented the same measures in Saskatchewan. Several focus group participants stated that they had been told that if they did self-generate, they would have to pay SaskPower the same amount they were currently paying for power to receive backup services for reliability. This “capacity reservation charge” effectively blocked any efforts or initiatives to develop a GHG reduction strategy and develop solar or wind generation.

Focus group participants commented on the Crown corporations, SaskPower (electricity provider) and SaskEnergy (natural gas heat provider) mandate. As Crown corporations, their primary mandate appeared to be profit generation and preservation of their business portfolios. Their mandate would need to be shifted to lowering carbon emissions in order for this to change, or a stricter regulatory environment would be required restricting carbon-emitting practices and technologies. Two of the focus groups confirmed that a comprehensive multi-provincial approach would be required to competently address climate change mitigation and create a level playing field able to actually reduce GHGs.

4.3 Power production futures

Figure 4 illustrates the power production sources that survey respondents identified as the best power production source for Saskatchewan, considering safety, reliability sustainability and cost. SMRs are considerably in the lead with 24% of respondents selecting them. However, significantly more men than women made this selection; women and those identifying as having an average or below-average knowledge of power production selected solar.

Solar and wind were identified as the second and third most preferred options in Saskatchewan. However, solar was described as not reliable, having a high cost for its limited life span, too expensive to install and needing backup power generation. Many stated the −46°C winters in Saskatchewan as making solar not feasible. Peoples’ concerns surrounding wind were its dependence on weather, cost and the disposal of towers and turbines when they are no longer functioning.

When evaluating Saskatchewan’s hydro-electricity potential, respondents noted that solar, wind and nuclear were more available given Saskatchewan’s flat topography. Long-term environmental problems associated with building more dams were also identified as barriers. For large nuclear plants, the expense, danger and disposal of waste were the most common expressed concerns. Similar concerns were expressed in relation to SMRs, however, to a significantly lesser degree. Respondents identified the need for more research surrounding SMRs.

4.3.1 Change in power production support.

The educational video on climate change, as well as biomass and SMRs provided mid-survey enhanced awareness, learning and increased support for the lesser-known power production sources of SMRs and biomass. This finding confirms that an experimental survey design can advance social learning; results are depicted in Figure 5. However, improved preference for clean and renewable technology should still be approached with caution. Respondents were very much in agreement that a mix of power production sources should be in Saskatchewan’s future (92%). In total, 77% believed all options should be considered, including SMRs; 80% agreed that Saskatchewan had so much uranium, it makes sense to use it to generate electricity in Saskatchewan; and 73% agreed health and safety concerns should not prevent considering SMRs (and should be considered with all power generation sources).

Support for hydropower from the neighbouring province Manitoba and nuclear energy from SMRs increases the most after seeing the video. At the same time, support for hydropower from Saskatchewan, natural gas and biomass decreases slightly after viewing the video.

Focus group participants also raised a discussion surrounding the interconnections of nuclear power generation with the production of isotopes and the existence of SMRs in cruise ships. However, this discussion generated comments including “why we are late to the party” or “why there was not more nuclear technology and SMRs did not already exist”. It could not be observed from the qualitative data that the discussion increased support for SMRs.

4.3.2 Existing concerns surrounding power production sources.

Coal, coal with CCS and natural gas were still regarded as dirty; natural gas with CCS was considered too expensive (and many identified it as still emitting GHGs). Biomass was regarded as cumbersome and wasteful and not sustainable or environmentally friendly (as it just released carbon in wood back into the atmosphere). Geothermal was considered too localized, too costly, unable to power an entire community and not widely available in the province. The main reason for rejecting the import of hydro-electricity from Manitoba was the fact it was from Manitoba and would result in loss of Saskatchewan jobs combined with the belief Saskatchewan should be self-sufficient to prevent cost increases.

4.3.3 Future power production values.

Survey results of the highest value placed on power production explaintrepidation concerning wind and solar power production. Survey respondents identified reliability as the top consideration when considering a power generation source. In total, 78% of respondents identified it as a “great deal”. One of the mining focus group participants mentioned:

Any electricity supply has to be very reliable. What we mean by that is we have to be able to provide electricity when it is extremely cold for extended periods and also when it is extremely dark for extended periods of time. When I say dark, I mean more hours of dark than light.

The highest sector supporting reliability was agriculture with 100% of respondents identifying reliability as mattering a great deal or somewhat.

All business focus group participants agreed that being a “green” or environmentally friendly company was important in advancing the attractiveness of their business. However, these sentiments are not represented in survey results in relation to the most important considerations in terms of power generation. Not only was environmental impact ranked second last overall, there were divergent survey responses by sector. Surprisingly, environmental impact was more important for businesses in the arts, entertainment and accommodation, manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors. Approximately 75% of respondents in these sectors identified environmental impact as mattering a great deal or somewhat. (This is contrasted to 36% of respondents in the transportation sector and 49% in the mining, utilities and construction sector.)

4.3.4 Trusted sources of information.

The trusted sources identified by the survey respondents support this method of knowledge system between academics and business community. According to the survey, 85% of respondents considered scientists, teachers and academics, along with SaskPower, as the most trusted sources of information on electricity. Over 80% of those surveyed identified their understanding of electricity generation as above average, as depicted in Figure 6.

SaskPower was rated as somewhat trustworthy by 60% of respondents, while the majority of respondents (36%) deemed academics to be a “highly reputable” source. On the other hand, environmental organizations and business/industry groups were perceived as credible sources by over 60% of respondents, but more than 30% found them not very credible. The government received mixed results, with 29% of respondents considering it not very credible, placing it in the middle of the list.

The percentage of respondents who found other electricity companies besides SaskPower to be at least somewhat credible was 70%, which was greater than the percentages for government, business/industry groups and environmental organizations. It is significant to observe that 13% of respondents were unaware of any companies besides SaskPower. Both conventional media (TV, newspapers and radio) and online media (with social media being the least trustworthy source) were evaluated as less reliable when it came to providing information on electricity. In actuality, 76% of respondents said that they did not trust social media as a credible source of knowledge.

5. Conclusion

This research contributes to a growing body of literature addressing a gap in upstream system power production portfolios (Pidgeon et al., 2014) and not merely analysing a failed place-based renewable energy project (Devine-Wright and Wiersma, 2020). The research uses mixed methods and focuses on a key group of actors, business people, in relation to achieving net-zero emissions in the future. Mixed methods (a survey [283] and focus groups) with Saskatchewan’s business community in 2020 and 2021 provide:

  • insight into Saskatchewan, Canada’s pathway to achieving net-zero power production in the future in the context of climate change through preferences of Saskatchewan business;

  • policy recommendations facilitating this transition;

  • justification for engaging business people in solving this complex problem; and

  • providing them with information they request; this methodology demonstrated a knowledge system of interaction between academics and business that advanced a paradigmatic shift towards decarbonization.

People’s values (Section 4.3) and place attachment (Section 4.2.1) are important determinants of pathways.

Although many business people view solar and wind as cleaner (due to nuclear waste and potential safety concerns), they favoured SMRs because of the need for reliable power production sources and the abundant uranium resources available in the case study area. An original experimental survey design with a video information intervention noticeably enhanced awareness and increased support for the lesser-known power production sources of SMRs and biomass. However, gender characteristics and knowledge of the complex issue are still correlated to preferences. These findings are consistent with other research demonstrating significant transformational change through learning involving people (Few et al., 2017; Scoones et al., 2020). Findings also confirm this method of academic engagement with business is a knowledge system advancing paradigmatic shifts in decarbonization.

Affecting community energy futures in this manner confirms that it is neither simply an “information deficit”, nor selfish, ignorant or irrational objection to certain options that prevent imaginations for decarbonization (Pellizzone et al., 2017). The best approaches use plural lenses embracing a plurality of views, using reflexivity and demonstrating an understanding of the politics of energy futures (Delina and Janetos, 2018). This research confirms that reductions of coal, transitioning to more renewable energy and focusing on key industries are effective strategies that can inform regional policy and can allow for place-based diversity (including availability of natural resources such as wind and solar) (Song et al., 2021). Focus groups conducted prior to the survey allowed for identification of barriers and policy recommendations. Deficits identified included language and communication barriers surrounding efficiency versus GHG reductions, lack of regulations advancing technology change that encourage short-term decision-making and disconnection of the federal government’s net zero by 2050 goal with provincial energy suppliers and their monopoly mandates. Changing the regulatory landscape to incent GHG reductions instead of efficiency and rewarding cooperative efforts with others in reducing GHG emissions would help address this gap. Making transformational change to decarbonization was identified by research participants as “bigger than the province” and requiring concerted federal and inter-provincial (regional) cooperation and focus.

Figures

Sask power available generating capacity (SaskPower, 2022)

Figure 1.

Sask power available generating capacity (SaskPower, 2022)

Summary of research steps

Figure 2.

Summary of research steps

Survey respondent profile

Figure 3.

Survey respondent profile

Best power production source in the future

Figure 4.

Best power production source in the future

Change in support in power generation source preference

Figure 5.

Change in support in power generation source preference

Credibility of information sources on electricity

Figure 6.

Credibility of information sources on electricity

Mining and industry GHG reduction targets

Type of business Goal Year
Mining Increased energy efficiency Aspirational
Industry 5% efficiency 2030
Industry 30% reduction of 2016 baseline 2030
Industry 8% energy reduction; 5% water reduction 2030
Industry 10% OBPS target 2030
Oil and gas company 2025/30/50
Note:

OBPS = Output-based pricing system

Source: Authors’ own creation

Notes

1.

Regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas-fired generation of electricity (SOR/2018-261)

2.

These include the Cypress Wind Power Facility (16 turbines – 11 MW) opened in 2002, the Centennial Wind Power Facility (83 turbines – 150 MW) opened in 2006, the Morse Wind Facility (10 turbines – 2.3 MW) opened in 2015, the Riverhurst Wind Facility (3 turbines – 10 MW) opened in 2021 and the Blue Hill Wind Facility (35 turbines – 175 MW) opened in 2022 (SaskPower, 2023).

Appendix

These questions were provided to participants in advance to stimulate discussion during the upcoming focus group:

  • Does your organization have a goal to reduce its GHG emissions? If so, what is the planned reduction, what is the timeframe and how will it be achieved?

  • To what extent does your organization consider energy efficiency and digital infrastructure (e.g. grid modernization and real-time data collection) as mechanisms to achieve meaningful progress towards Canada’s aspirational goal of achieving net-zero GHG emissions by 2050?

  • Does your organization support electrification of end-use as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Examples of end-use may include energy required for transportation, building heating and industrial processes.

  • Is your organization looking at options to replace or augment natural gas for process and/or building heat sources? If so, what options are being considered? Examples might include co-generation, small modular reactors, hydrogen and renewable natural gas.

  • Is your organization considering self-generation of electricity? If so, what types of generations are being considered and on what scale?

  • What do you think Saskatchewan’s power supply mix could or should look like in 2050, considering the current supply mix, options currently under consideration and Canada’s aspirational goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050?

  • Are there any other technologies that should be considered in meeting Saskatchewan’s energy supply needs?

  • What opinions do you have about the attributes of each option under consideration such as economic, environmental, reliability, resilience and security of supply?

Source: Authors’ own creation

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Canada Research Chairs Programme, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, MITACs, the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan and Candu Owners Group.

Corresponding author

Tanushree Das can be contacted at: tanushreetithi@gmail.com

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