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Alberta explores electricity-for-pipeline access trade deal with B.C.

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd is downplaying reports the provincial government is talking to British Columbia about buying hydroelectricity in return for allowing a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast.

But Alberta energy minister downplays talks: 'We're just talking about what-ifs.'

When Albertans elected an NDP majority government in May 2015, leader Rachel Notley still opposed the Northern Gateway Pipeline. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd is downplaying reports the provincial government is talking to British Columbia about buying hydroelectricity in return for allowing a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Premier Rachel Notley said talks were underway. She also indicated she is softening her opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Boyd confirmed Thursday multilateral talks are underway. But she said they haven't got to the point where Alberta is offering to trade electricity for pipeline access.

"It's not there yet. We're just talking about what-ifs," McCuaig-Boyd said Thursday. "It's really how can we work together to get 'yes' as a nation to pipelines and the mutual benefit for all of us."

Notley has been pushing her provincial and federal counterparts to back a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific or Atlantic coasts. A pipeline would get Alberta crude to world markets, where it would earn a higher price per barrel.

The premier has previously backed the proposed Energy East pipeline to New Brunswick and Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to British Columbia.  

B.C. opposes the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway projects for environmental reasons, and has insisted on five conditions that must be met before any new pipelines are built. 

Northern Gateway was approved by the National Energy Board in 2014, with 209 conditions. But the project continues to face opposition from environmental groups and B.C. First Nations.

B.C. Energy Minister Mary Polak said the same five conditions still must be met, but her government believes it can happen if the will is there.

"We see a strengthened BC-Alberta intertie for west-east electricity transmission as an opportunity to work together on climate action, in partnership with the federal government," Polak said in a written statement. 

"B.C. may be able to support Alberta's planned closures of coal-fired generating plants by exporting clean electricity. That proposal is one that staff are exploring and discussing in both provinces."

Notley's willingness to take a second look at Northern Gateway represents a new wrinkle in her push to get Alberta crude to tidewater.

The B.C. government will have hydropower to sell once construction on the Site C hydroelectric project on the Peace River is complete.

Wildrose leader suprised but glad

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said he was surprised to hear about Notley's change of heart, but welcomed the shift.

"I am glad they are moving in that direction," he said. "It's certainly refreshing from my perspective, being that I have been advocating for pipelines for over 10 years in our federal government and here in Alberta for over year. So I'm very excited to see that they (Alberta NDP government) are seeing the light and changing their mind."

Interim PC Leader Ric McIver also reacted positively to Notley's willingness to take a second look at the controversial project.

"Any progress is good progress and Alberta's energy industry desperately needs support from their government." he said.

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