Last week, federal cabinet ministers Jonathan Wilkinson and Steven Guilbeault added a new twist to the ongoing Atlantic Loop soap opera.

The ministers announced that to qualify for the proposed 15% federal Clean Electricity Investment Tax Credit, electricity providers would need to show a viable plan to achieve a net-zero grid by 2035.

At present, Nova Scotia does not have a plan. 

Granted, Nova Scotia Power (NSP) has produced a new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with 21 scenarios based on a variety of sensitivities. Each scenario includes its annual electricity production, the energy sources used, their emissions, and required revenues 2025 to 2050.

Twelve of the scenarios use the Atlantic Loop

The premier and his ministers no longer support the Atlantic Loop. Instead, they talk of a future with unspecified volumes of electricity from offshore wind, solar, tidal, storage, and nuclear power.

Since NSP’s IRP is the closest we have to a plan, an examination of its scenarios can give us an idea of Nova Scotia’s electrical-energy future.

The western Atlantic Loop

The Atlantic Loop consists of an eastern side connecting NSP to non-emitting sources of electricity from Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. The Loop’s western side is to give NSP access to electricity from Hydro Québec. 

The western route has yet to be defined.

Nova Scotia’s premier has stated the western Atlantic Loop could bankrupt Nova Scotia.

The following figure shows the required revenues (2025 to 2050) for each of the scenarios. The average revenue for the western Atlantic Loop is $26.49 billion and without the western Atlantic Loop is $26.25 billion.

Figure 1: Required revenues (2025-2050). Blue: western Atlantic Loop; Orange: without Atlantic Loop

The difference in the average revenues of the two approaches is $250 million.

However, there is a price to pay for the potential savings. Most scenarios without the western Atlantic Loop emit more greenhouse gases between 2025 and 2050 than those with the western Atlantic Loop. 

The difference is significant, as this figure shows. With the western Atlantic Loop, the average cumulative emissions are 20.1 megatonnes and without, emissions are 26.1 megatonnes.

Figure 2: Cumulative emissions (2025-2050)

This is a serious issue. It is necessary to reduce the quantity of emissions released into the atmosphere if global temperature rise is to be kept below 1.5∞C, let alone 2∞C.

Net-zero electrical grid

A net-zero grid does not mean it has zero emissions. It means close-to-zero with the hope that the emissions are removed from the atmosphere through natural or anthropogenic means.

The federal government’s Clean Electricity Regulations set the net-zero grid target emissions intensity at 30 tonnes of greenhouse gases for every gigawatt-hour of electricity produced by 2035.

In 2022, NSP sold 10,456 gigawatt-hours of electricity and emitted 5.77 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. Its emissions intensity in 2022 was 552 tonnes per gigawatt-hour.

Between now and 2035, NSP’s emissions must decline by about 520 tonnes per GWh.

The next figure shows the emissions intensities for each scenario in 2035 calculated from the IRP data. Every scenario with the western Atlantic Loop is below the 30 t/GWh limit (the green line).

Figure 3: Emissions intensities in 2035

However, every scenario without the western Atlantic Loop except one exceeds the 30 t/GWh net-zero limit.

In 2035, if emissions above the 30t/GWh limit are taxed, Nova Scotians will have another added expense for their electricity.

If Nova Scotia is to have a viable, energy-secure energy future that meets the province’s 2030 emissions target and the federal 2035 net-zero grid requirements, it will need a new energy strategy.

Larry Hughes is a professor at Dalhousie University.

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  1. Thank you, Dr Hughes. Elegant piece of writing that explains one aspect of the NS power situation so that it is easily understandable. Your piece makes it abundantly clear that the western leg of the Atlantic Loop is essential if NS is to avoid emissions that are essentially 20 times the new limits that will come into effect. This overage will cost every Nova Scotian on their electricity bill. Pursuing the western loop is a “no-brainer”. What is the PC government thinking?!

  2. QUEBEC it appears does NOT have ‘ the necessary surplus power ‘ for the supply to the loop

  3. Thanks Larry for writing this and thanks Examiner for giving the space for it.
    Of note is that the single scenario without the Western Atlantic Loop that gets under the 30 tonne/GWh is Direct Air Carbon Capture (DACC) technology. A largely unproven technology on a large scale.
    The current global capacity for DACC is around 0.01Mt/year. By my back of the paper calculation this scenario would require NS Power ALONE to capture 570 times the current global capacity by 2035? Proposals for those plants would need to be in the works NOW.
    DACC also requires quite large amounts of low carbon energy to operate the facilities. Not something we have a lot of ‘extra’ laying around to spare for powering carbon capture. NSP would also have to be planning for that infrastructure to support DACC.
    Thus the point of this article. There’s no plan! There has to be a plan or none of this will happen. Big, important choices need to be made soon.

    1. Bradley, I have no idea why NSP listed DACC. It makes little sense as you noted. When I asked them why, it was simply an example of what could be done.
      You might want to look at our analysis of Nova Scotia’s potential Nature Based Solutions (NBS), which would work fine in a world not undergoing the early stages of climate extremes:

    1. Eric, No matter what we do, getting to 30t/GWh by 2035 will be a (costly) challenge without some source of firm power. Natgas is the most likely, although there is talk of SMR (in New Brunswick, naturally), long-term storage, and even less likely, coal with Carbon Capture and Storage.