Thursday’s federal throne speech contained an idea that could mean money for the province to offset the cost of the beleaguered Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
“The government will ensure Canada is the most competitive jurisdiction in the world for clean technology companies,” read the speech, delivered by Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette.
“Additionally, the government will transform how we power our economy and communities by moving forward with the Clean Power Fund, including with projects like the Atlantic Loop that will connect surplus clean power to regions transitioning away from coal.”
The essential idea is to have electricity from the Upper Churchill and Lower Churchill projects flow into the Maritimes through not only the Maritime Link, but through Quebec, where it can move into New Brunswick and potentially the northeastern United States.
Premier Andrew Furey didn’t have fuller details than what was discussed in the throne speech, but he’s hopeful the announcement is good news for the province.
“I think it was exciting to hear it discussed in the speech from the throne,” Furey said Thursday.
“I look forward to having those discussions with the federal government. Hopefully, this is what I’ve always said, that there is value to be had with Muskrat Falls and we need to unlock it using projects like the Atlantic Loop. Hopefully, it can return important value and important return to ratepayers and taxpayers alike in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne says having the federal government behind such a project is extremely positive in terms of getting revenue from the Muskrat Falls project.
“To have the federal government involved in establishing an Atlantic electricity corridor that involves Quebec is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Browne.
Former premier Dwight Ball and Quebec Premier Francois Legault signed a memorandum of understanding in 2017 that focused on mining development in the Labrador Trough and completing the Trans-Labrador Highway, specifically Route 510 in Labrador and Route 138 in Quebec. While the memorandum does not mention the energy corridor specifically, its signing signalled enhanced co-operation between two provinces that are often at odds over electricity development.
“To have the federal government take the lead in bringing the provinces together is a major step forward,” said Browne.
“The federal government hasn’t shown this level of involvement previously. With their leadership they can bring the Atlantic provinces together, and Quebec, for the establishment for an eastern transmission corridor. If that is on the table, it will be for the benefit of this province and all Atlantic Canada.”
But Browne says he’s not sure the Atlantic Loop is a solution to the economic storm caused by the $13.1-billion Muskrat Falls project, but it will help any future developments find a market.
“Most of Muskrat’s power was designed for the island. We were closing down Holyrood. We only have 800 megawatts there. Most of that was destined for the island, and then we have 170 megawatts to provide to Nova Scotia, pursuant to our agreements,” said Browne.
“Is there a lot of surplus electricity? Perhaps not. That’s why I referred to this federal initiative as a long-reaching concept. It’s one we should all support. It will enable us, for the future in particular if there are to be other developments, and also for the Upper Churchill and coming to agreements with Quebec.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie said he wonders whether the project will benefit Quebec more than Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The concept of exporting clean, green hydroelectricity throughout Canada is not a new idea," Crosbie stated in a news release.
"However, without seeing the details of such a project, I question whether Quebec will receive the greatest benefit. Will the Atlantic Loop help residents of this province? How much will be provided for rate relief?”