Ottawa presents Atlantic Loop as big clean energy plan, with few details


First there was the Atlantic bubble. Now there is a movement to bring the region closer with the “Atlantic Loop,” a catchy phrase the federal Liberals featured in the Speech from the Throne on Wednesday, promising big ideas on a clean energy future in Canada. Atlantic.The Atlantic Loop, however, earned only one mention in the speech, as a plan “that will link surplus clean energy to regions in transition away from coal”.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan, who is also the Member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, said Thursday that the transportation project is intended to replace the Maritimes’ coal supply with Labrador hydropower. and Quebec, an idea that requires investment in infrastructure.

“We would build transmission lines to link the Labrador-Quebec network to New Brunswick and then to Nova Scotia,” O’Regan told CBC News.

Nova Scotia is already on the verge of receiving some of the hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador via the submarine maritime link, as part of the province’s efforts to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

But Labrador MP Yvonne Jones said the loop could carry the excess 300 megawatts or more of electricity from Muskrat Falls that has yet to be talked about and that would demand more.

“It gives us opportunities in the future to do more hydro development in Labrador, and I think that’s the key here,” Jones told CBC News.

While the Atlantic Loop may be a new wording, the idea of ​​a regional power system is not and was highlighted in a 2018 federal government report on regional electricity cooperation.

This illustration, taken from a 2018 federal government report on a regional energy plan, shows some ideas for new infrastructure to allow hydroelectric power to flow throughout Atlantic Canada. (Ministry of Natural Resources)

More electricity production?

Jones says the main issue for Labrador is the possibility of another new hydropower project: Gull Island, which has long been launched as a potential dam on the Churchill River and has been set aside. in favor of the development of a smaller project at Muskrat Falls.

“The Atlantic Loop is going to require a lot of hydroelectric power,” said Jones, who, in an interview, could not come up with a figure on this need for electricity.

“There will be a need for new projects and for new alternatives, which will put Labrador back in the driver’s seat whether we go ahead with additional hydro development projects or not. ”

Jones acknowledged that hydroelectric projects are a touchy subject in Newfoundland and Labrador.

An aerial photograph of the power plant at the Muskrat Falls site, dated February 2020 (Submitted by Nalcor Energy)

“I know that in Labrador and the province there will be great apprehension about future hydroelectric development projects when we see what happened in Muskrat Falls,” she said.

Electricity flowed from the Muskrat Falls Dam into the Labrador power grid on Tuesday for the first time, a milestone in the project that was marked by massive cost overruns, construction delays spanning years and a public inquiry into its sanctions.

“Muskrat Falls was a very poorly executed project and a very poorly managed project for most of its construction life. So if anything, I hope we’ve learned a few lessons, ”she said.

But Labrador isn’t the only potential clean energy player in Atlantic Loop. Jones said Quebec – with its deep hydroelectric expertise – would also be involved, and there would also be room for New Brunswick to harness the powerful tides of the Bay of Fundy.

“You’re going to see a lot more research on tidal power,” she said.

Industry and the federal government have invested time and money in potential Fundy projects in the past, with a broken turbine stuck on the bay floor since 2018.

A turbine for the Cape Sharp Tidal project is seen at the Pictou Shipyard in Pictou, Nova Scotia, in May 2016 (Andrew Vaughan / The Canadian Press)

Out of the loop?

O’Regan said there had been behind-the-scenes work on the Atlantic Loop before, including with Quebec, a province whose energy relations with Newfoundland and Labrador have been historically frigid and involved multiple court battles over Churchill Falls hydroelectric power.

“We are working with Quebec and the Maritime Energy Ministers on this,” said O’Regan. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for the Atlantic Loop. ”

It appears that the Premier and the Minister of Energy of Newfoundland and Labrador are not yet involved. At a St. John’s press conference on Thursday, Premier Andrew Furey said all details of the new plan were too premature to discuss.

“We… heard about it yesterday in the Speech from the Throne, but I’m delighted that Newfoundland and Labrador can be this green battery that is potentially spreading across Quebec, potentially thanks to our existing assets, possibly thanks to upgrades. speculate here on what that might look like, ”Furey said.

“This is very new,” said Andrew Parsons, Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology, adding that like reporters he had heard about it in the Speech from the Throne.

The hitherto vague idea has created a lot of questions even for clean energy insiders.

“Is this investment for something that already exists? So support for the Muskrat Falls project, which of course we need, or is it something more? Does this open new doors? Said Kieran Hanley, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association.

« [There’s] a lot of interest in what it is, but no answers. ”

Neither Jones nor O’Regan had deadlines attached to the Atlantic Loop project, and Jones said there would be details to come in the “next few months” as to who was the main player in the plan.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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