The proposed energy corridor to connect the four Atlantic provinces with hydroelectricity from Quebec and Labrador is important in helping the region achieve zero carbon emissions, but the project is not enough, a new study suggests.
When coal is phased out, demand for electricity will increase, according to the study released last week by Enviroeconomics and Navius Research, commissioned by the Halifax-based Ecology Action Center. The Atlantic region needs more than the proposed $5 billion Atlantic Loop corridor to meet future demand and sustain the region’s fossil fuel resources, the study said, titled “Assessing Net-Zero Electricity Supply and Demand Models in the Atlantic walk”.
“The modeling suggests that Atlantic Loop scenarios that provide low-emission water from Newfoundland and Labrador or Quebec are important to meet future demand,” the study said. “However, several uncertainties suggest that a balanced approach to the [energy] supply mix is probably the cautious path forward.”
It will be particularly important for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to find electricity sources to complement the future Atlantic Loop, the study said, noting that these two provinces are the only provinces in the region that still have coal-fired power plants.
The study said the federal government in New Brunswick has not agreed to extend the life of the Belledune power plant beyond 2030, while Nova Scotia continues to operate four coal and petroleum coke generating plants. The largest, in Lingan, NS, has a capacity of 620 megawatts.
Both provinces have committed to phasing out coal-fired generation by 2030, while Nova Scotia has set its goals by law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to at least 53 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve a net carbon footprint by 2050. achieve zero emissions. There is also a commitment to get 80 percent of the province’s energy from renewable sources by 2030.
The study warns that the modeling it uses to measure the costs of the Atlantic Loop is uncertain, as the price tags of large projects are “typically” underestimated, while the cost of renewables could fall faster than expected.
It also points out that future electricity supplies from Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador to feed the Atlantic Loop “may be a question,” given competition for low-emission power from the United States and Ontario.
“We conclude a portfolio approach that includes developing more domestic renewable generation, while exploring Atlantic Loop’s capabilities is a conservative approach to meeting future electricity needs in a fossil-fuel-free future,” the study said.
In a recent interview, Gurprasad Gurumurthy of the Ecology Action Center said energy costs will be high in the future if more renewable energies such as wind and solar are not brought online. And while electricity rates will increase initially as coal is phased out, consumer bills will drop over time as more energy is transferred to the grid, Gurumurthy said.
He says improving Atlantic Canada’s electricity system in the short term will help make residential and commercial buildings and electricity transmission more efficient.
“It has to happen,” Grumurthy said of launching the Atlantic Loop or installing a second submarine link to the delayed Muskrat Falls hydropower project in Labrador. “The solution will be full collaboration between our institutions, government and utilities.”
Gurumurthy said the Atlantic Loop project is technically feasible, adding that all that remains is political will and negotiations between the provinces.
“There is the potential for the creation of this loop,” he said.
The Atlantic Prime Ministers have held talks with Ottawa about funding the Atlantic Loop in recent months, but no federal commitment has been made to date.
After a cabinet meeting last week, Tory Rushton, Nova Scotia’s natural and renewables minister, said “talks” are continuing.
“But at this time there is no formal request from our government to the federal government,” Rushton said. “We are in the process of finalizing some initiatives to assess true total costs.”
Rushton admitted that if something has to be done it will have to be sooner rather than later.
“We have quite ambitious [climate] targets and 2030 is not that far off, so we realize some decisions need to be made very soon,” he said.