© — Telegram file photo
Nova Scotians need and want Lower Churchill power — but if they decide they don’t, Emera will send it elsewhere.
That was the message presented by Emera representatives in the midst of regulatory hearings in Halifax this week, weighing the proposed Maritime Link to connect the power grids of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
In a public hearing, a representative for Emera was asked what would happen if the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) did not approve the project plan as it stands.
“What we said at the hearing (Thursday) is that if the Nova Scotia UARB does not approve the Maritime Link we would take this to understand that Nova Scotians don’t want the energy,” confirmed Emera spokeswoman Sasha Irving, when asked about the utility’s response.
“As per the sanction agreement, we and Nalcor are committed to the link, but if not approved by (the regulator), we and Nalcor are committed to finding a way forward,” she stated in an email.
“We won’t speculate on what the outcome of that might be.”
From 2008-10, Emera was theorizing what might be developed within Atlantic Canada to help create an “Atlantic Energy Gateway.” Theories on the Maritime Link, as provided in pre-hearing submissions to the UARB, show the tie between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia has been thought of in different ways.
It has been suggested the link might be built with power simply run through Nova Scotia, rather than having some fed out to Nova Scotian ratepayers.
It has also been suggested other routes for the Maritime Link might be undertaken, including a route that would see it connect directly with New Brunswick, though The Telegram was told Emera will not speculate on what alternatives might be put on the table today.
The current focus is on getting a positive response from the Nova Scotia regulator.
“Nalcor Energy is committed to the Maritime Link with Emera as outlined in the sanction agreement,” stated a Nalcor spokeswoman in an email Friday.
There was no response to a question of what happens if the application for the link is not successful before the regulator.
Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin has repeatedly told reporters he would not venture down the “what if” path regarding the Maritime Link and has regularly emphasized the strength of the partnership between Nalcor and Emera.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has said the Lower Churchill project would go ahead regardless of whether Emera and Nova Scotia are involved through the Maritime Link.
Even so, “we are confident in Nalcor and Emera’s ability to deliver the Maritime Link, as outlined in the commercial agreements,” said Newfoundland and Labrador Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall in an emailed statement.
“The Maritime Link is the lowest cost alternative for Nova Scotians,” he said.
“We believe that the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board will see this as well.”
The link and the federal loan guarantee tied to it were presented as a means of both reducing project financing costs by as much as $1 billion and, through the sale of excess power, to more quickly recover overall construction costs.
When the loan guarantee was first announced — in a deal that tied federal support to the creation of that power interconnection between the Atlantic provinces — it was questioned whether Nova Scotia was really on board.
“I ask the premier to be very clear: has Emera and the Nova Scotia government committed to this province that they will sanction this deal without regulatory review and, regardless, that we can count on Emera to participate in this deal regardless of the outcome of the PUB in Nova Scotia?” Liberal Leader Dwight Ball asked in the House of Assembly on Dec. 4, 2012.
“Mr. Speaker,” responded Premier Kathy Dunderdale, “when Newfoundland and Labrador — Nalcor specifically, with the approval of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador — sanctions this project, the loan guarantee will be available to the people of the province.”
The project was sanctioned Dec. 17, 2012.
The Liberal leader pulled off the road while driving through Gros Morne to call The Telegram Friday.
He accused the Dunderdale government of sanctioning the Lower Churchill project prematurely, not knowing what would happen with the regulatory review of the Maritime Link.
If the regulator in Nova Scotia rejects the project, Ball said, the result will be costly for the province, no matter how it shakes out.
“I do believe the federal loan guarantee is in jeopardy if this doesn’t pass the UARB in Nova Scotia,” he said.
If the loan guarantee is not off the table altogether, he said, his understanding is it would require an amendment.
If there is a decision by Emera to change the route of the link, the environmental assessment process will have to be taken into consideration.
If there is a delay in construction, there are financial impacts.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael called the results of the Nova Scotia review “very, very important” for the Lower Churchill project.
Michael also questioned the timing and financial implications of a negative response from the UARB. She questioned Emera’s will to move ahead — it can opt out of the estimated $1.5-billion project before 2014.
On Emera’s stand on Nova Scotia sales: “The thing for me is, what does that mean for us? ... What will that mean for us here in Newfoundland and Labrador?”