Reservoir hydro resources on the Canadian prairies

Vision of Earth has been working on the topic of Saskatchewan’s energy future for quite some time. We presented some ideas at the Saskatchewan Legislature earlier this year, and have been following the course of our province’s development closely. We have also completed some other works relating to Saskatchewan’s Energy Future.

We have been captivated for a long time by the intriguing possibilities inherent in combining Manitoba’s extensive hydro resources with Saskatchewan’s high-quality wind power. A number of other groups in Saskatchewan have been lobbying for greater interconnection between the two power grids to take advantage of the natural synergy that exists between wind power and reservoir-based hydro power.

I have lately been digging into this problem a little more deeply. My investigations have led me to a few basic facts that explain why this project is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. This is the first post of several on this subject. Here I am only considering the subject of dispatchable hydro capacity for the prairies. If ‘dispatchable’ is not a familiar term, you may find it handy to read our piece on renewable dispatchable power. Posts on other issues and ideas for the Manitoba-Saskatchewan power grid are forthcoming.

Dispatchable Hydro on the Prairies

By looking at the documents describing all of the hydro systems in Manitoba, I could find out whether they are run-of-river or reservoir based. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of Manitoba’s power generating capacity is run-of-river. Manitoba Hydro only operates two reservoir-based hydro stations at Grand Rapids and Kelsey. Together these two stations total 683 MW of power generation ability. Similar investigations led me to believe that Saskatchewan has a combined total of 575 MW of dispatchable hydro at the Coteau Creek, EB Campbell, and Island Falls power stations.

With regards to Manitoba Hydro, our knowledge of how much power they can dispatch from hydro does not tell us is how much dispatchable energy was available from these reservoirs. That is, how long could we run them at max before they are empty? A related question is how quickly they fill up with water again, and what are the legal and regulatory considerations for downstream waterfront users. People may rely on those reservoirs for recreational use or business, and they may be home to sensitive biota. The answers to these questions vary seasonally as well, since the water cycle in Manitoba can be quite ‘boom and bust’. I was also interested in how much of their dispatchable energy they were using (if any) to cover lead-in times for other forms of generation. What this means is that often a quickly responding dispatchable source such as hydro is used to ‘cover’ another generator that is only capable of turning on more slowly in response to demand.

Our investigations into SaskPower’s infrastructure has led us to the understanding that Saskatchewan’s current dispatchable hydro resources are more or less fully leveraged already. That is, they are being maximally implemented to keep the rest of the grid functioning They are being used to cover lead-in times and intermittent sources.

As far as Manitoba was concerned, I wasn’t able to get very far on these questions using the documentation that I could find online. I decided to ask Manitoba Hydro directly:

Email sent to Manitoba Hydro:

Volunteer group conducting study of renewable energy in prairies

Hello, my name is Benjamin Harack. I am the leader of a Regina based volunteer group that is working on a comprehensive energy plan for the prairie provinces.

We are currently working on studying the renewable energy resources of the prairies. Specifically we are interested in the fact that reservoir hydro is special among all forms of renewable energy in that it is dispatchable. We are studying what is possible regarding a synergy between hydroelectric reservoirs in Saskatchewan and Manitoba along with their intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar.

We are very interested in learning more detailed information about the energy storage capability of Manitoba Hydro’s system. We have studied the resources available online on your website, but we still have questions we would like to ask to ensure that we are accurate in our formulation of a possible energy future for the prairies.

Some of these questions are:

1) What is the total dispatchable power generation capacity of Manitoba Hydro?
2) What is the yearly average (as well as possible low year) available dispatchable energy (not power) available for use?
3) What amount of the yearly dispatchable energy is used for lead-in times for the ramp up of other generation types, and for baseload?
4) Does Manitoba Hydro have plans to increase its dispatchable reservoir capacity in the next decade(s)?

As the lead researcher on this project, I would be very interested in getting in touch with anyone at Manitoba Hydro who might be able to answer some of these questions. Any guidance on how to find these answers would also be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time.

Benjamin Harack B.Sc. B.A.
Vision of Earth Project
[Phone number removed for internet publication]

This email was sent September 11th, 2010. I have received no response as of October 2nd, 2010.

If you know of sources of information on these topics, or have ideas about how to proceed with this analysis, please do not hesitate to comment on this post or contact us. We are very interested in what people have to say on the matter.

Ben Harack

I'm an aspiring omnologist who is fascinated by humanity's potential.

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