Elected officials in Nova Scotia are in agreement that the province needs to get off coal sooner, but it appears the only way for that to happen is with help from Ottawa.
Premier Tim Houston convened a meeting in Halifax Friday with officials from Nova Scotia Power, provincial opposition leaders and Nova Scotia’s 11 members of Parliament to discuss how to move forward with the Atlantic Loop.
The project, which could cost as much as $5 billion, would see more green energy generated in the province, and transmission upgrades in New Brunswick to facilitate the distribution of green energy from Quebec and Labrador.
Houston told reporters on Thursday the purpose of the meeting was to ensure everyone has the same information about what’s required as the province attempts to get off coal and increase the amount of green energy produced to 80 per cent by 2030.
Making that project a reality without crippling ratepayers will require federal help, said Houston.
“Rate stability is obviously critical and we know that Nova Scotians pay higher power rates because of our investments in renewables over the years,” he said.
“We’ve been leaders in that and we want to continue to be leaders in that, but we have to protect the ratepayers of this province and that’s why federal involvement is so critical in this file.”
Nova Scotia Liberal MPs Andy Fillmore and Sean Fraser said after the meeting that they were glad to be invited and that so many people were involved. They intend to bring the information back to their caucus.
“I think we’ve got some work to do to figure out the specific financing details, but from my perspective it was good to have that buy-in for a major project and a green economy here in Nova Scotia,” said Fraser.
Fillmore said reaching the 2030 goals, which is a decade sooner than originally planned, comes at a cost and it cannot be borne by Nova Scotia ratepayers.
He said there’s been a willingness from Ottawa to partner through the national infrastructure bank and Fillmore said those talks would continue.
“I’m very positive about the whole thing.”
Conservative MP Chris d’Entremont said the message he’ll bring back to his caucus will be that there’s now a solution for decarbonizing Atlantic Canada, but the challenge is it comes with a big price tag. The federal government needs to be a significant player in the financing, he said.
“Quite honestly, it was their goals that has led us to this kind of project in order to get us off of coal,” he said.
“I think all Nova Scotians would agree with that, that we need to get back to carbon-neutral on this and that we really need to do this. But it’s their plan, so they have to come to the table to help fund it.”
Peter Gregg, the president of Nova Scotia Power, agreed that for a project of this magnitude to happen in an affordable way would require government support.
“Really, what we’re responding to as a utility is policy development at both the federal and provincial level that says we want to get off coal, and we agree with that direction,” he said.
“But doing it over an accelerated time frame to 2030 comes with cost and … I do think it’s appropriate that levels of government help with that.”
Gregg said the utility continues to do the necessary planning to ensure the project is affordable and reliable and can meet the various regulatory requirements.
While it’s a tight timeframe, Gregg said meeting the 2030 target is possible if everyone is on the same page, including utilities in New Brunswick and Quebec.
A spokesperson for Hydro-Quebec said talks with the Atlantic provinces continue and the utility has more than enough capacity to help with the potential project.
“Hydro-Québec generates more than 200 TWh of energy annually and exports over 30 TWh,” Maxence Huard-Lefebvre said in an email to CBC.
“In comparison, total electricity generation in Nova Scotia was less than 10 TWh in 2018 according to the Canadian Energy Board. We have the means at our disposal to continue to export significant volumes of energy and to meet increasing demand in Quebec.”
Opposition leaders offer cautious support
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said the project is a good opportunity for the province to get off coal sooner than originally planned.
“I’ll be supportive as long as it goes through the right regulatory process and it’s the best option for ratepayers,” he said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it will be important while these talks continue not to lose sight of the importance community renewable projects play in greening the province.
“It’s a part of the picture that has not been developed adequately over the last recent number of years, so we’re very concerned to make sure that the community-based renewables are part of the path by which we get off of coal by 2030.”