Hydro Quebecwick? Not just Danny’s problem

NB Power-craigslistThis promises to be a continuing Contrarian topic, but I will flag it briefly: NB Power’s apparently imminent sale to Hydro Quebec represents a tectonic shift in Nova Scotia’s energy options.

I mention this because, as is typical, the national news media seem to view the story as just another installment in Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams’s (to them) clownish battles with central Canada. Such a view is as witless as it is patronizing.

The sale poses huge problems for Nova Scotia and PEI, as well as Newfoundland. If Quebec can use its windfall profits from Joey Smallwood’s disastrous 1969 deal on Upper Churchill Falls to buy up all the available routes that might get Lower Churchill Falls power to market, you have to wonder whether Canada really is a country any more.

Nova Scotia needs desperately needs to get off dirty imported coal as an energy source. Of our three local renewable energy prospects—wind, biomass, and tidal—two are intermittent and require large amounts of dispatchable backup energy. (Dispatchable means it can be turned on and off quickly, unlike thermal plants, and when needed, unlike wind and tidal). Pt. LePreau nuclear and Churchill Falls Hydro are the two best only two prospects. To justify the cost of Churchill Falls, we need to be able to transit any excess electricity to New England.

Premier Darrell Dexter speaks bravely about turning the sale, and Newfoundland’s antipathy to Quebec Hydro, to Nova Scotia’s advantage by building an undersea cable from Yarmouth to Maine. That would add a third undersea cable to the project. (The first two would cross the Strait of Belle Isle and the Cabot Strait.) Maine Governor John Baldacci, keen on forging an energy alliance with NB, has previously rejected that idea.

Dexter may by hoping to keep the young’un’s spirits up by whistling past this graveyard, but he must understand that this is first big crisis to face his administration.

A sale would also blows a big hole in nascent plans for a green energy pool involving the four Atlantic Provinces, another potential solution to the problem of intermittentcy of renewable energy supplies.

The Globe and Mail reports that Quebec is holding out a sweet carrot to NB Premier Shawn Graham: wiping clean NB Power’s $4.7-billion debt, and cutting power rates to consumers and businesses by $5-billion. That will be hard for the province to resist, and it goes without saying that no national government would risk offending Quebec by blocking the sale, even if it cripples energy options for three poor-sister provinces.

More on this in the days ahead. Meanwhile, Costas Halavrezos has a good interview with Yves Gagnon, KC Irving Chair of Sustainable Development at Université de Moncton here, CBC-New Brunswick’s estimable Jacques Poitras has some cogent analysis, and, as always, AllNovaScotia is on top of the story (subscription required). Reaction from Williams here and here.  The Fredericton Gleaner likes the deal, as does the New Brunswick Business Journal.

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