The Maritime Link - what does it mean for us?

- 30 July 2013 in comment

When the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) announced on July 22 that it had conditionally approved the Maritime Link that will bring electricity from Newfoundland's Muskrat Falls to the province, most Nova Scotians were left wondering what it means for our pocketbooks.

And almost two weeks after the politically charged announcement was made, we still don't know any more than we did before July 22. It's likely we won't know the answer for months, if not years.

The project was approved with conditions for Emera to obtain market-priced energy from Nalcor, the Crown utility in Newfoundland and Labrador. The Maritime Link is a 180-kilometre subsea cable that will deliver hydroelectric power from Newfoundland and Labrador to Nova Scotia. The link is one component of the larger Muskrat Falls project, which will help diversify the Atlantic province's energy mix while creating thousands of jobs in the area.

The governing NDP's political future may very well ride on this project and that reality quickly became evident within hours of the announcement as politicians began the spin cycle. If we are to believe the NDP, the UARB, by approving the project (with conditions), has confirmed the Maritime Link project represents the lowest cost option for the province to meet greenhouse gas and coal reduction laws.

Energy Minister Charlie Parker described the approval as very good news for the province and for Nova Scotia families. He claimed the independent UARB has backed up what the government has said all along, that the Maritime Link is the lowest long-term cost alternative for electricity for ratepayers in Nova Scotia.

That sounds positive, but not so fast. Opposition parties have a completely different take on the project and this is where the waters become muddy.

Liberal leader Stephen McNeil quickly jumped on the political bandwagon saying the UARB has confirmed his party's argument that the NDP and Nova Scotia Power deal for the project is not the best option for Nova Scotians.

The Liberals have claimed from the early days of this project that the deal is not the lowest cost alternative for Nova Scotia's households and businesses, and does not meet the test as being the lowest priced energy for customers and as expected the party would push their case.

Premier Darrell Dexter and Nova Scotia Power wanted to force Nova Scotians into paying the entire bill for the billion-dollar project, accept all of the risk, and lock the province into higher power rates for decades to come, Mr. McNeil said. However, the regulator has confirmed that the deal is not acceptable, unless it is significantly amended to be more favourable for Nova Scotia Power ratepayers.

The UARB decision states that, "the board finds that without some enforceable covenant about the availability of the Market-priced Energy, the [Maritime Link] project does not represent the lowest long-term cost alternative for electricity for ratepayers in Nova Scotia."

Clearly, as the Liberals point out and despite the NDP spin, the UARB has decided that the deal as signed and presented was not in the best interests of Nova Scotia. Not to be outdone, the Progressive Conservatives quickly waded into the debate with leader Jamie Baillie saying the UARB's decision supports the PC position that this may be a good project but this is a bad deal for Nova Scotians.

A key concern of the PCs throughout the hearing was that Nova Scotians were being asked to pay for the more expensive NS Block of power, without guaranteed access to the cheaper surplus power. In its ruling, Mr. Baillie pointed out the UARB approved the mega-project with the condition that Nova Scotia Power Maritime Link Inc. must obtain the right to access cheaper market-priced excess energy from Nalcor.

This is all confusing for most of us, but Mr. Baillie is right on one thing - the skyrocketing cost of electricity is hurting families and putting jobs at risk. Beyond that though and despite last week's decision, Nova Scotians do not know how much electricity from Muskrat Falls will cost or what it will do to our power rates.

Nova Scotians are already struggling to deal with power rates that have skyrocketed 30 per cent over the last four years, according to the Liberals, and as Mr. McNeil says, it's time that the people of Nova Scotia have a government and an energy market that represents and supports their interests.

Having access to clean, renewable energy is important for our province, but it cannot come with increased financial burdens that will essentially cripple us.

— Vernon Oickle

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