Higgs says Atlantic premiers like plan for more transmission capacity in province

All four Atlantic premiers are keen to see NB Power and Quebec work together to build new transmission lines through New Brunswick, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

Higgs says all the premiers taking part in the annual meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers — which he attended by videoconference after his flight was cancelled — endorsed the agreement announced last Friday. 

"It was seen as a win with all of the provinces because they wanted this infrastructure upgrade," he said.

Higgs said greater transmission capacity could allow hydroelectric power from Quebec to replace power now generated at NB Power's Belledune and Coleson Cove generating stations, if no alternatives can be found by 2030.

Belledune now burns coal, which Ottawa wants phased out in the next decade, and Coleson Cove runs on the coldest days of the year on fuel oil. Both are carbon dioxide-emitting fossil fuels.

"It is an option that provides for Belledune in 2030 and also looking at Coleson Cove down the road in 2030," Higgs said. 

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It will also allow Quebec to sell electricity via New Brunswick into Nova Scotia, which has four coal-fired plants.

Another scenario will see power from dams in Labrador, including Muskrat Falls, transmitted through Quebec and New Brunswick into the United States via NB Power's links to the New England power grid.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick would be able to collect tolls on the power moving through the province.

"Increasing the capability of our transmission system is a benefit to all of us," Higgs said.

Quebec Premier François Legault told reporters in St. John's that his province has a surplus of hydroelectricity that it's willing to sell to other provinces now burning fossil fuels to generate power.

"It's a good way to replace this energy [with] clean energy especially in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia," Legault said.

Environment and Climate Change Canada

"It's clear that we have right now some capacity and we can add to this capacity. So why don't we work together on a plan, a complete plan to serve 100 per cent of clean energy to all our provinces?"

In a pair of tweets, New Brunswick Green Party Leader David Coon applauded the plan in sweeping terms.

"Today, the four Atlantic Premiers took the first essential step toward creating a renewable energy future for our region, by agreeing to create a regional grid that would move hydroelectricity from Labrador and Quebec to the Maritimes," he said.

"This will make it easier to replace dirty coal and costly nuclear with renewable power, but we must have a plan to roll out wind, solar and more of our own hydroelectricity here at home."

But Higgs said that he foresees nuclear power, including from the proposed small modular reactors proposed by two Saint John companies, also being available to other provinces via the beefed-up grid. 

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The agreement on transmission links goes beyond connections that would be built at the Quebec border and would see "significant" new lines built through all of New Brunswick, Higgs said. 

The heads of NB Power and Hydro-Québec will work over the next four to six months on developing a specific proposal that will be presented to the federal government for funding.

The premier said the project should be eligible for federal funding under Ottawa's green infrastructure program, which federal documents say is aimed in part at "new renewable electricity and transmission projects."

Ottawa's help?

"It fits the federal program directly, really," Higgs said.

Last Friday, NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas said federal subsidies would create a risk of the United States launching some form of trade retaliation. Canadian energy sent to the U.S. now crosses the border tax-free and tariff-free.

Higgs said he was aware of the concern but said it may be possible to avoid U.S. trade measures because the primary impetus for the upgrade is domestic.

"We need this upgrade just to get power from Quebec coming into Nova Scotia, so that part of it is an internal Canadian solution," he said.  

NB Power and Hydro-Québec announced two other agreements Friday. One will see the Quebec utility advise NB Power on refurbishing the Mactaquac Dam, and the other will see NB Power buying more electricity from Hydro-Québec over the next two decades.