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The maze of pipes inside SaskPower’s carbon-capture facility. About 90% of the green house gases produced by the coal-fired plant will be sequestered underground.KRISTOPHER GRUNERT

Early in October, provincially owned SaskPower announced that one of its 45-year-old Boundary Dam coal-fired power plants had been successfully connected to the world's first utility-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility—a development that inspired more than a bit of, well, corporate emitting. "Many countries are coming to Canada to see what we're doing," says Mike Monea, the president of SaskPower's CCS initiative. "Canada has become a world leader, and it's pretty neat."

The massive $1.2-billion project—including $240 million in federal grants—is expected to prevent one million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from escaping into the atmosphere each year, representing greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to taking 200,000 vehicles off the roads.

The gas capture system, developed by Quebec firm CanSolv (acquired by Shell Global in 2008), removes about 90% of the plant's CO2. SaskPower pumps some of the recovered gas into a deep aquifer near the plant, where it can be stored for thousands of years. The rest has been purchased by oil giant Cenovus, which built a 66-kilometre pipeline to transport condensed CO2 from Boundary to its Weyburn oil field operations. There, as part of an existing enhanced oil recovery operation, Cenovus injects the CO2 deep underground to force hard-to-recover oil up to the surface.

While SaskPower's CCS project has won kudos from some environmental groups, critics suggest that the funds to finance the project could have been put to better use building renewable energy infrastructure. "Saskatchewan has the best solar resources in Canada," observes Greenpeace Canada energy analyst Keith Stewart.

With the first plant up and running, Monea says SaskPower will look for ways to reduce capital costs and boost efficiency. (About a fifth of the unit's 160-megawatt capacity is used to power the CO2 capture.) The medium-term goal: retrofitting two other Boundary Dam units with carbon capture systems that will feed into Saskatchewan's burgeoning enhanced-oil-recovery market. As Monea says, "We have a lot of oil fields near our plant."

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