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Why Conawapa will be scrapped

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Or at least delayed for a long, long, long time.

To get a quick picture of the rapidly-changing energy market you only have to take a peek at the United States Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2014 released on Monday.

It basically confirms what we know already--that the extraction of shale gas (fracking) and its continued availability will fundamentally change how we produce power.

The EIA say natural gas production will see a 56 per cent increase from now to 2040, when production reaches 37.6 trillion cubic feet.

It says in outlook's executive summary that increased production, and distribution, of natural gas will lead to more of it replacing coal for power generation.

It also says the U.S. will also see more consumption of natural gas in the U.S. industrial sector. 

"Projected low prices for natural gas make it a very attractive fuel for new generating capacity," the EIA says. "In some areas, natural gas-fired generation replaces generation formerly supplied by coal and nuclear plants. In 2040, natural gas accounts for 35 per cent of total electricity generation, while coal accounts for 32 per cent."

The EIA adds: "Additional retirements of coal and nuclear plants result in the need for new capacity, and new natural gas-fired plants are much cheaper to build than coal, nuclear, or renewable plants."

Another change is the increased use of wind and solar power in the U.S. although that's largely dependent on the continuation of tax incentives for renewables compared with the wider availability of affordable natural gas.

What might also have an impact on the need for Conawapa is greater energy conservation in the U.S. and Canada.

Example: The EIA says lower costs and wider availability of outdoor LED lighting will result in lower energy consumption after 2020.

Canada's ban on inefficient incandescent light bulbs goes into effect this Jan. 1.

The estimated $10.2-billion Conawapa was forecast to be in operation as early as 2025, but much of the planning for the ginormous 1,485-megawatt dam took place before the shale gas boom. 

All focus now is getting the new Bipole III transmission line built and the new Keeyask generating station fully out of the gate. Right now Keeyask is before the Clean Environment Commission where it's stuck in prolonged hearings.

Keeyask is supposed to be in full service by 2021. By then, if the pace of change continues as it has, Conawapa won't be needed.

At least until it becomes too expensive to burn natural gas to produce electricity.


P.S. In the Dec. 17 USA Today: U.S. forecasts natural gas boom through 2040

"Two other trends will also intensify: more efficient cars and light trucks will reduce energy use while renewable sources such as solar and wind will produce more power. The result: The United States will export more energy and import less. The net import share of U.S. energy consumption could drop to as little as 4% by 2040 - down from 16% in 2012 and 30% in 2005."

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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