Premier Tim Houston says he is “no longer optimistic” that a proposed and much-discussed Atlantic Loop project that would deliver renewable energy from Quebec to the Maritimes is viable.  

The estimated $5.5 billion project involves building 800 kilometers of new overhead power lines, as well as a new transmission line at the border of New Brunswick-Nova Scotia, to deliver 500 megawatts to Nova Scotia Power. That’s just slightly more than the current capacity of the Maritime Link, a submarine cable that delivers hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls, Labrador to Cape Breton. 

On Wednesday at the legislature, Houston was asked about a comment made two days ago by Dominic LeBlanc, the federal minister for intergovernmental affairs and infrastructure. LeBlanc said he was “very optimistic” an agreement in principle to proceed with the Atlantic Loop could be reached by mid-summer. Leblanc told reporters the federal government’s lead negotiator was “encouraged” by conversations among Emera, New Brunswick Power, and Hydro-Quebec.    

The latest federal budget mentions the Atlantic Loop as a project that might qualify for a portion of $20 billion allocated to the Canada Infrastructure Bank for “greening electricity infrastructure.” 

Houston’s response was, essentially: show me the money. 

“Look, if it is something that is achievable and the federal government can step up in a meaningful way and support the ratepayers in Nova Scotia, like they have done in Newfoundland… I would like to see that. I would like to see a meaningful, straight-on investment in the project from the federal government to support the ratepayers,” Houston said. 

A white man with grey hai and wearing a plaid suit with a white shirt and pink, blue, and black striped tie talks to reporters with microphones.
Premier Tim Houston. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

Houston noted that time was running out and he expressed doubt the project is viable unless Ottawa is prepared to support “ratepayers in Nova Scotia as they have in Newfoundland.” That was a reference to a $5.2 billion bailout Ottawa provided Newfoundlanders after skyrocketing costs on the Muskrat Falls project were about to double power rates in that province.

A sea change in rhetoric 

For the past several years importing renewable power from Quebec has been repeatedly touted by politicians, various studies, and Scott Balfour, the chair of Nova Scotia Power and Emera, as the key to closing four coal-fired generating stations by 2030. That’s the deadline legislated by the province to reduce carbon emissions.  

Two months ago, the Halifax Examiner asked a spokesperson for Nova Scotia Power if Hydro Quebec, which anticipates demand within its own province to grow exponentially over the next 10 years as it continues to electrify vehicles and buildings, would have additional electricity to export. Here is the response from spokesperson Mina Atia: 

We [Nova Scotia Power] have an important role to play in Nova Scotia’s energy transition given Government’s ambitious climate goals of moving off coal and reaching 80 percent renewable by 2030.  

We continue to believe the Atlantic Loop is the most effective way to progress carbon reduction initiatives in the region and we hope the federal government will support this project, so we remain engaged in the discussions. Supply volumes, costs and investment options are part of those discussions”. 

Reporters asked Houston about the province’s Plan B if the Atlantic Loop doesn’t proceed.

“We’re working on that. Is it more wind? Is it more solar?” Houston said. “It sure would be nice if we could get the energy from Muskrat Falls that we are paying for, too. We’ve been hurt by that and I’ll have more to say at a later time. The goals are legislated. We know we need to green the grid and we know the energy mix will be different.”

The province has signed contracts with half a dozen independent power companies, which are teamed up with First Nations to generate 350 megawatts of wind power by 2025-26. It has also rewritten legislation to allow the province to contract with developers of battery storage technologies. 

Nova Scotia Power cancelled its multi-million-dollar investment in battery storage this year after the Houston government limited how much money it could obtain from ratepayers. 

But without a firm supply of imports and ongoing technical problems with receiving the anticipated amount of hydro from Muskrat Falls, it’s looking increasingly unlikely Nova Scotia will be able to get off coal by 2030.  

Response from Opposition leaders

Liberal leader Zach Churchill had the following response to Houston’s disillusionment with the Atlantic Loop. 

“He has to dig into these files. Instead of blaming everyone else, he has to start taking his job as premier seriously and developing solutions within his own government, making sure the investments are going in the right areas, particularly this project.”            

A white woman with short dark curly hair and wearing an orange jacket over a black top speaks to reporters holding microphones and take recorders.
NDP leader Claudia Chender. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

NDP leader Claudia Chender expressed her doubt and concern that the province has figured out a credible alternative to the Atlantic Loop. 

“We’ve been asking for years, is there a Plan B? Because the Atlantic Loop has never been a sure thing. So, I think for the premier to start to question whether that’s the right approach without providing any tangible alternative is really concerning for the environmental future of our province and our contribution to climate commitments… the premier says ‘wind, solar’ and we are supposed to feel like that is a plan, and it’s not.”


                                              

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Ultimately the problem is Nova Scotia Power/Emera. A private company has no interest in investing in viable long term solutions that do not show a near term profit. Power should really be the responsibility of government.Unfortunately, I doubt that Mr. Houston would be willing to acknowledge this. Nova Scotia has ample tidal resources, which combined with offshore wind and onshore wind could go a long way to powering the province, especially when combined with batteries and water storage. However, the nature of offshore windpower and tidal power requires a smaller scale approach and is one that does not mesh well with larger corporate economics. Globally, companies like Siemens ( which could make money from land based wind turbines (which are all virtually identical) tried and left the business of operating off shore turbines (which must be tailored to the site). That being said, Denmark has been remarkably successful at constructing and operating offshore wind farms, which now produce almost 60% of Denmark’s power. Denmark is almost at the same latitude as Nova Scotia and similar in terms of climate.

  2. All of this focus from the province and Emera/NS Power around importing hydroelectricity from Quebec and Labrador is so utterly ridiculous. And all we have to do is look at the cost of solar and wind and how much it has absolutely plummeted in the US and Europe over the last decade. To the point where this is now some of the absolute cheapest new generation you can build!

    Coupled with storage technology coming online (the best of which isn’t expensive battery technology) and it is so clear the path we should be taking to provide power here in NS. We are a windy province, wind farms have pretty minimal environmental footprints, and can actually look quite beautiful in the landscape. But instead we are dithering around with multi-billion dollar projects to build expensive transmission lines and coupling stations to transmit power long distance, creating bottle necked infrastructure in the process. Instead of just doing the work of moving towards smart, distributed, and local power.

    I’m not sure if the problem is just the standard intersection of corporate greed and political nepotism so rife in this province, or true incompetence. Maybe it’s both