Power politics

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Premier Kathy Dunderdale is not worried about Stephen McNeil.

McNeil, newly elected premier of Nova Scotia, has consistently voiced concerns about the Maritime Link project. That’s the $1.5-billion underwater cable that N.S. power company Emera plans to build in exchange for a free bloc of power from Muskrat Falls.

McNeil, when he was Liberal opposition leader, even made a presentation to the Nova Scotia utility board when the project was being assessed. He said he doesn’t oppose the project — just the current deal.

Shortly after his victory on Tuesday, McNeil said he’s determined to make sure Nova Scotians get a better rate on any extra power.

Now, there’s some ambiguity there.

First, the cost of the first 200 megawatts of power to Emera is, well, zero. It’s free. But Emera does have to build the means to get that power.

Second, will Emera even get any extra power from Muskrat Falls? Nalcor CEO Ed Martin says he won’t make any extra long-term deals. But the Nova Scotia utility board ruled Emera has to get a guarantee for more market-price power from Nalcor.

Well, sort of. It’s not 100 per cent clear.

You see, the condition is that Emera must arrange the extra power through Nalcor, “or provide some other arrangement to ensure access to market-priced energy.”

So Emera could, conceivably, get extra power from Quebec, or from one of its many interests in New Brunswick or New England.

In fact, Emera just bought three gas-fired plants in the New England states. And a company spokeswoman has said some of that power may eventually come back across the border.

So it’s all quite tangly. But here’s another thing.

Dunderdale told reporters this week she’s not concerned about any tough talk from McNeil. Why? Because the deal was signed with Emera, a private firm. And besides, the viability of Muskrat Falls doesn’t rely on the N.S. link anyway.

On the latter point, she’s consistent. Nalcor has always said its lowest-cost power calculation did not include the Maritime Link. But it won’t get a federal loan guarantee without it.

But on the first point, she’d better hope McNeil doesn’t take his cues from the actions of the Newfoundland government.

Because Dunderdale, under her own administration and that of Danny Williams before her, certainly does think provincial governments have the power to scuttle corporate contracts.

Consider the expropriation of the Abitibi mill in 2008. The government snatched all forest and water rights from the company, and even grabbed the mill property by mistake. That boondoggle has cost the province and the federal government at least $280 million in compensation.

Then again, perhaps McNeil will take a cue from that and stay well clear of corporate intervention.

Confused yet? Stay tuned.

Organizations: Maritime Link, Nova Scotia utility board

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Muskrat Falls, Quebec New Brunswick New England Newfoundland Abitibi

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