Muskrat Rises

Danny Williams and Darrell Dexter at the Muskrat Falls announcement.

Laurent Le Pierrès, in his Chronicle Herald editorial on the Muskrat Falls hydro project, reasoned away many of the concerns around the electricity plan Darrell Dexter signed with then Premier of Newfoundland Danny Williams.

The fact of the matter is that the price of coal has jumped 70 per cent over the past eight years… The only way to change reality is to alter the facts on the ground.

At the moment, the advent of renewables is cumulatively adding one to two per cent annually to power rates. But the cost of doing nothing is not nothing. Clinging to coal is like staying on an escalator; at least with renewables, you will hit a plateau.

There are hidden benefits, too. The less NSP spends on foreign coal — $250 million a year as it now stands — the more it invests in the local jobs that go with renewables. The utility’s economic footprint in Nova Scotia will keep growing since it is required by law to hit a target of 40 per cent renewables by 2020.

This will be difficult to do if the plan to import hydro power from Labrador via subsea cable does not proceed. In terms of energy, Muskrat Falls would deliver to Nova Scotia not only the equivalent of one coal-fired unit, but a stable, fixed-cost supply for 35 years.

One issue not tackled in Le Pierrès’ editorial is why Emera does not import hydro electricity from Quebec instead.

For that to work, there would need to be substantial upgrades to New Brunswick’s energy grid and a far greater capacity built into the transmission link between that province and Nova Scotia. Building better capacity between NS and NB is also part of the Maritime Link plan with Newfoundland to ensure Nova Scotia is not “an energy island,” but the transmission link right now is not effective.

Currently, our province can bring in a couple hundred megawatts from New Brunswick, as long as Moncton does not require that energy during their hours of peak energy usage. But inefficiencies in the transmission system mean that although the distance to Newfoundland is longer, there is no significant “line loss” in hydro supplied by Muskrat Falls.

The high voltage direct current from a Newfoundland cable to Cape Breton would mean Nova Scotia Power would not need to buy 10% more energy then it needs to keep your lights on. Line loss from New Brunswick requires Nova Scotians to buy that extra energy lost during transmission.

Energy from Muskrat Falls will account for about 10% of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs, supplied at a firm rate for 35 years, and provided during Nova Scotia’s 16 peak-usage hours.

The agreement with Newfoundland also gives Nova Scotia Power the ability to purchase another 10-15% of our province’s electricity needs at competitive prices instead of that power going to New England markets.