Letter: No need for N.L. to import electricity

Published on August 20, 2016

I am a graduate student at Memorial University, specializing in energy policy in Newfoundland and Labrador. I am writing in reply to the article “Talks underway for N.L. Hydro use of import power,” Aug. 2 by Ashley Fitzpatrick, published in the Aug. 3rd edition of The Telegram.

Our province is preparing to import fossil-fuel powered electricity from neighbouring jurisdictions. Considering the significant potential for renewable energy development right here at home, this is not our best option to meet our energy needs.  

While not specified in the article, our closest trading partners in the electricity market include Nova Scotia Power and New Brunswick Power. NS Power relies on coal for 56 per cents of its electricity and oil and gas for an additional 14 per cent. NB Power relies on fossil fuels for approximately 69 per cent of its electricity generation capacity. It is safe to assume that if N.L. is to import electricity from a neighbouring jurisdiction, we will be importing a large percentage of coal, oil and natural gas-fired power.

From a public health and environmental perspective, coal and oil-fired electricity are by far the most harmful energy sources. For example, a recent study in the U.S. (Machol and Rizk, 2013) found that the average economic health-care costs associated with burning coal were a staggering $0.19-$0.45 per kilowatt hour (kWh) and for oil the costs were $0.08-$0.19/kWh. To contrast, the average Newfoundlander pays approximately $0.11/kWh for electricity — not even enough to cover 50 per cent of the health-care bill associated with burning coal.

With regards to the environmental impact, burning coal emits between 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent/kWh. To contrast, hydroelectricity emits between 0.1 and 0.5 pounds, solar emits 0.07 to 0.2 pounds, and wind energy emits 0.02 to 0.04 pounds. In other words, hydroelectricity emits less than 35 per cent of the carbon output of coal, solar emits less than 14 per cent, and wind emits less than three per cent.

Prior to importing fossil fuel powered electricity from another province, it is prudent that the provincial government and the province’s power utilities explore domestic renewable energy opportunities. According to our own provincial energy strategy, N.L. has 18,000 megawatts of renewable energy resources available. For perspective, this province consumes only 1,600 megawatts of electricity at peak demand — or less than nine per cent of the renewable energy available.

N.L. has amongst the strongest potential for wind energy development of any jurisdiction in North America. Despite this, we are currently ranked last amongst Canada’s provinces in installed capacity. A relatively recent study from Memorial University (Fisher, Iqbal and Fisher, 2009) concluded that if N.L. was converted into a single wind farm we could produce 117 times the amount of electricity that we consume. The province’s Department of Natural Resources suggests that there is 5,000 megawatts of wind energy available for development — or greater than three times the amount of electricity consumed in the province.

Not only is there a significant amount of renewable energy available for development in the province, it also makes economic sense. Electricity rates in the province are expected to rise to $.214/kWh when Muskrat Falls (eventually?) comes online, and electricity from Holyrood costs northwards of $.10/kWh based on low oil prices. This is substantially more than the $0.07-$0.08/kWh the province’s Crown energy corporation pays for electricity from existing wind farms in St. Lawrence and Fermeuse.

Despite the potential and economic advantage of renewables — there is a piece of legislation in N.L., Bill 61, which currently prohibits independent power producers from selling electricity into the grid of the province. I offer an alternative solution to importing fossil-fuelled powered electricity from other provinces: amend Bill 61 and allow renewable energy developers to compete and sell electricity into our provincial grid.

Importing electricity from another Canadian province is an unnecessary first in N.L.’s history. Policymakers should keep in mind one of my favourite Chinese proverbs: “when the winds of change blow, some people build walls… and others build windmills.” 

Nick Mercer

St. John’s