Emera president: Muskrat falls a good deal for N.S.

Jennifer Hoegg
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Chris Huskilson, president and CEO of Emera Inc., was in Wolfville Aug. 2 to pitch the benefits of the Muskrat Falls project.

By Jennifer Hoegg 


Chris Huskilson says the Muskrat Falls deal will bring clean power to Nova Scotia and should save electricity customers money.

The president of Emera Inc., Nova Scotia Power’s parent company, was in Wolfville Thursday to meet with local business and media to pitch the benefits of connecting to the Newfoundland and Labrador hydroelectric project.

Although cost information was not confirmed when the deal was signed July 31, Huskilson said the project should put downward pressure on electricity rates because the costs over 35 years are fixed and declining.

Emera will have a stake in the undersea connection between Newfoundland and Labrador, along with the connection between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, for 35 years.

“Forty per cent of the energy from this project will stay in Newfoundland to displace their oil fired plant, he said. “There other 60 per cent of the energy will come to Scotia.  Twenty per cent will stay here as part of our deal. The other 40 per cent will go somewhere.”

That “somewhere” could be New England, if Nova Scotia doesn’t buy more than its 20 per cent.

“They have transmission capacity from us that lets us get it to Boston,” Huskilson said.

The deal is “the cost of entry to get at some lower-cost energy that will flow through the region,” he added. 


Tidal twist

When the first electricity comes along the undersea cable in 2017, Huskilson said it would make tidal power more of a possibility in Nova Scotia. 

“This will make tidal, and large scale tidal, much, much more possible than any other connection we could make to any other part of the world,” he said.

 “(Tidal energy) is predictable which is lovely, wind is not, but it comes when you don’t need it. The Annapolis tidal plant comes on in the middle of the night and produces electricity. We don’t need it then.”

Adding a transmission line to Newfoundland would allow the excess capacity to be “dumped back into their system,” which Huskilson said is only possible with hydro power.

“We have 400 megawatts of hydro in this province and that’s how we’re coping with wind. Having this connection allows us to store that energy in the hydro systems in Newfoundland.”

Diversifying the province’s energy supply is a key part of the Muskrat Falls plan, he said, to provide “baseload” electricity generation after coal plants are phased out under federal government regulations.

“We’re going to have wind, we’re going to have biomass, we’re going to have gas and out to …  2040 we will have some high carbon,” he said.

“We will no longer be able to be self-sufficient in a world where you can’t produce CO2.”

Geographic diversity as well as supply diversity makes a huge difference to reliability, he said, and puts Emera in a loop where they can buy energy from Newfoundland, Quebec, New Brunswick or New England.

The timing is right because the financial conditions are right, Huskilson said of the deal.

“Because this is all capital, financing is king,” he said.

Borrowing is relatively cheap at the movement and a federal capital loan guarantee will make it even less expensive to finance the project.  

Critics have said the fact Emera won’t have a stake in the ownership of undersea cables in the 36th year of the contract is a negative, but Huskilson said it is not a concern.

 “As long as the line is still there, it doesn’t matter who owns it, it will still be used.

“We will get access to market priced energy at the end of that line. It will be clean and it’ll be based on the market minus our transport.

“Thirty-five years is a visible time frame” he added, “35 years from now, God knows what we will be creating electricity with.”  

However, he does know high carbon fuel won’t be a possibility for Nova Scotia’s electrical production at that point.

“2050 is the real bogey,” he said.

Fundy tidal

Nova Scotia Power’s test turbine generated power for 10 days from its slot on the bottom of the Bay of Fundy off of Parrsboro.  On the 11th day, the force of the tides did it in.

“You can’t test tidal turbines on the Bay of Fundy,” Huskilson said. “We completely underestimated how much power was in the tides.”

“On the day that it failed (the turbine produced two-and-a-half times its rated capacity (2.4 megawatts) and it physically melted the copper in the machine,” he said. “The reason that the blades blew out of the machine is because when the copper melted it locked the rotor and the blades couldn’t stand the forces.

In addition, how to deploy, retrieve and environmental effects.

“It took a year to put it in, a year to get it out,” he added, “that was not about our ability to grab it, it was about weather. 

He said Emera is working on acquiring a floating platform to test its next turbine.  To deploy a floating platform to test their next turbine design for 1,000 to 2,000 hours before trying it on the bottom.

“I don’t want a new tidal turbine,” he added, “I want a used one because I know a used turbine works.”


Wind must be wanted

Huskilson said wind farms aren’t right for every community.

Kings County council recently moved to rescind its large-scale wind turbine bylaw after some residents voiced strong opposition to wind development here.

 “Communities need to embrace wind farms or (the farms) shouldn’t go there,” Huskilson said.  “I think there are lots of places that will embrace it.”


The challenge of efficiency

“We, collectively as Nova Scotians, are spending tremendous amounts of money on (energy efficiency) through Efficiency Nova Scotia.” Huskilson said, but it is difficult to predict if the demand for electricity will go down.

“We have seen a reduction in growth of demand,” he said.

When demand drops, the cost of capital investment in electrical infrastructure still has to be paid by customers, he said, so the price of electricity goes up.

“If everyone is participating in the reduction, than everybody saves.

“If I reduce my consumption by 25 per cent and then have to pay five per cent more, I don’t care do I? Because I’m 20 per cent ahead.

“The people who don’t (reduce) really get hurt because their total cost did go up.”

How the burden might fall on lower income consumers who may have less control over the energy efficiency of their homes, Huskilson said, “is not a question for the utility… it’s a question for the policy makers.”


Muskrat Falls deal formalized

July 31 the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced formal agreements have been reached between Nalcor Energy and Emera Inc. for the development and transmission of hydroelectric power from Muskrat Falls.

The agreements were signed in St. John's by Jerome Kennedy, Minister of Natural Resources; Charlie Parker, Nova Scotia Minister of Energy; Ed Martin, president and CEO of Nalcor Energy, and Chris Huskilson, president and CEO, Emera Inc.

Nalcor and Emera formalized 13 agreements spanning 50 years related to the development of Muskrat Falls, the Labrador-Island Transmission Link, and the Maritime Link.

Six of the agreements reflect the commitment by Emera to develop the Maritime Link connecting Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and to provide transmission rights in Nova Scotia. Four agreements relate to transmission rights for Nalcor in the Maritimes and New England as a result of Emera's investment in the Labrador-Island Link, which will span from Muskrat Falls, across the Strait of Belle Isle, to Soldiers Pond on the Avalon Peninsula. Three related agreements were also completed.




Organizations: Nova Scotia Power

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New England Wolfville Boston Annapolis Quebec New Brunswick

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