Nova Scotia has significant greenhouse gas emission goals to reach by 2030, including closing the province’s coal generating plants and relying instead on renewable power for 80% of its electrical needs.
For years, the hope was those lofty goals could be obtained with the help of the so-called “Atlantic Loop” — accessing 500 megawatts of hydro power from Quebec via 800 kilometres of new overhead direct current electric lines.
But no more. The Halifax Examiner reported in February that it was doubtful Quebec had the ability to provide Nova Scotia with so much power, and that was confirmed today by David Miller, the province’s director of Clean Electricity.
Miller and Tory Rushton, the minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, rolled out a new Clean Power Plan Wednesday at a technical briefing with reporters.
Miller said the projected costs of the Atlantic Loop have ballooned by over 300%, from $2.9 billion in 2020 to more than $9 billion today. That’s largely because the cost of high-voltage DC equipment and cables are going up because of global supply chain issues — basically, nearly every jurisdiction in the world is buying up such equipment and manufacturing hasn’t caught up to demand.
But even the $9 billion figure is a moving target.
“We’re still at a relatively early stage cost estimate, so that $9 billion could significantly increase,” explained Miller. “That risk for more cost escalation would fall on ratepayers in Nova Scotia. That level of risk is unacceptable.”
“At the end of the day, ratepayers are at the top of our mind,” said Rushton. “In a project that went from $2 billion when first discussed up to over $9 billion right now, that would be a the burden on the backs of ratepayers, and that’s not something that as a government we want to move forward.”
Moreover, said Rushton, most of the money would be spent in Quebec, not in Nova Scotia.
Even the existing portion of the Atlantic Loop — the two subsea cables (Labrador Island Link and Maritime Link) and overland cables that bring hydro power from Muskrat Falls to Nova Scotia — is underperforming.
“Despite the commissioning [of the Maritime Link] in 2018, we did not receive substantial energy until 2021 and even then it was intermittent,” said Miller. “So these years of delays have resulted in a double cost burden to Nova Scotia ratepayers — we have paid the capital cost of the link without getting the energy product we had bargained for. Since then, those deliveries have been delayed. We are getting most of that back over time but it has created challenges because this was a particularly expensive time to be buying replacement fuels.”
Asked when the expected deliveries from Muskrat Falls would finally arrive, Miller was non-committal.
“I think we’ll have to judge that a bit retrospectively,” replied Miller. “So we’ll need to see months of steady deliveries, particularly during winter peak periods, to know that the assets can perform under the harshest conditions… So to see that perform well through winter periods and peak use in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, I think we can become more confident about how often it may fail. And is that reasonable, considering what we’re expecting of it?“
Reaching renewable power goals
So without the Atlantic Loop, how will Nova Scotia meet its renewable power goals in just over six years?
The heart of the Clean Power Plan announced on Wednesday is a big increase in the reliance of wind — from 20% of electricity supplied to the grid today to 50% in 2030. Additionally, the plan calls for a significant increase in large-scale solar generation, from essentially nothing today to 300 megawatts in 2030.
But that plan relies on unproven and still-in-development battery technology that may provide up to 300 megawatts of power as back up for the renewable systems.
As well, part of the Atlantic Loop will be built — the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick “Reliability Tie” connecting Onslow, Nova Scotia to Salisbury, New Brunswick, and then a $1.4 billion extension to Point Lepreau that will give access to power networks in the United States. All of this is to happen by 2028.
Also, the plan relies on wide adaptation of electric vehicles (EVs), in part so that the EVs can be used to power houses and businesses when the grid fails during weather events.
How many EVs are Nova Scotian supposed to buy in the next six years?
“I wouldn’t have that number with me right now,” replied Rushton.
A percentage of the population?
“I wouldn’t even estimate,” said Rushton.
It seems a bit of a stretch.
“The fact is, they’ve [the PCs] been in government for two years and they haven’t built one megawatt of renewable energy,” said Liberal Environment critic and former premier Iain Rankin after the briefing.
“And so we’re two years closer to that deadline that’s coming up close for 2030. I don’t believe that all coal plants will be closed by that time.“