10/02/2014 07:00 EDT | Updated 12/02/2014 05:59 EST

SaskPower set to unveil 'clean coal' technology

Saskatchewan has attracted international interest in a $1.4 billion large scale application of technology aimed at reducing harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants. The province's Crown corporation SaskPower is hosting a major tour of its facilities today.

For several years, SaskPower has been outfitting its Boundary Dam power plant, near Estevan, Sask., in the province's southeast, with sophisticated equipment for what is known as carbon capture and storage.

The project is aimed at demonstrating that such a system is feasible for conventional power plants that use coal as a fuel in the generation of electricity.

Scientists and policy-makers from around the world — around 100 people from some 20 countries — have converged on Saskatchewan for Thursday's tour.

"Coal-fired power is very significant for Europe,"  Graeme Sweeney, an adviser to the European Commission, told CBC News. "In fact, over the last couple of years the amount of coal-fired power usage has risen rather than fallen. I think we should see a lot of people from Europe want to come and see this."

Corporate video available from SaskPower:

The Crown corporation SaskPower has produced a video tour to promote its carbon capture and storage project. You can view it using this link.

Saskatchewan's project, in general, collects carbon dioxide gas that is emitted as coal is burned in a power plant. That gas is compressed to liquid form. SaskPower has plans to sell the liquefied CO2 to the oil industry. Studies are also underway to see if the CO2 can be injected into natural underground storage caverns.

Costs viewed as high       

Ashok Bhargava, with the Asian Development Bank, arrived from the Philippines to check out the project.

He said he is keen to see coal-fired power plants in his region, particularly China. However, he noted that the carbon capture process — currently — has a steep price tag.

"[When] you transfer that cost in terms of electricity prices, prices have to go up by 80 percent," Bhargava said. "So nobody can afford that. So they have to come down within a level of 25 to 30 percent."

For some, other priorities come into play as coal-fired generating plants are examined against other means of producing electricity.

"Coal energy is very important in Japan, because nuclear power have big disaster now," Michiaki Harada, from the Japanese Centre for Asia Pacific Coal Flow, told CBC News.

While Saskatchewan's venture into clean coal is the first large-scale project of its kind, observers are optimistic it will be proven feasible.

"You can never be 100 percent confident," the European Commission's Sweeney said. "But we are very, very confident in the technology. The real issue is in the implementation. It's in the engineering, the storage and the infrastructure."

SaskPower's goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at its Unit # 3 power station by 90 per cent per year, or about one million tonnes of the greenhouse gas.

The project includes some $240 million in funding from the federal government.

Saskatchewan has no plans to phase out coal, which — according to SaskPower — supplies 70 per cent of its electricity.