New Brunswick

Sparks fly between Emera, Hydro-Québec over Atlantic Link power proposal

There's a Canadian power battle brewing in New England, with a mega-energy bid involving some criticisms of NB Power's former suitor, Hydro-Québec.

Emera's bid to supply Massachusetts with energy suggests NB Power's former suitor may not be as reliable

Between 250 and 300 wind turbines will be erected in New Brunswick if Emera's bid is successful. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

There's a Canadian power battle brewing in New England, with the company behind a mega-energy bid throwing shade at NB Power's one-time suitor Hydro-Québec.

Halifax-based Emera Inc. is one of dozens of bidders hoping to supply Massachusetts with electricity from renewable sources. Emera said it can sell the state more than five terrawatts of electricity a year through a deep-sea cable.

The power would come from a range of sources, including new wind farms and hydroelectric power generated in New Brunswick. NB Power also has an option to invest as a partner in the bid, which is called Atlantic Link.

Hydro-Québec, which tried to buy NB Power in 2009, is making a competing bid for the contract, and is now the target of not-so-subtle criticism from Emera.

In the summary of its bid, Emera warns that Hydro-Québec's supply of electricity may not be as reliable as Emera's in the coming decades.

Hydro-Québec's three transmission links to New England are "closely clustered" along the province's border with Vermont and New Hampshire, Emera said.

"Its existing transmission interfaces with New England are thus prone to being simultaneously affected by a single severe weather event," the bid said.

Pointing out the increasing frequency of extreme weather, including severe storms, Emera argued that New England should be looking for alternative transmission links "that do not substantially follow the same path" as existing ones.

Hydro-Québec 'surprised'

Hydro-Québec spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent said the utility was "surprised" by Emera's comments and said they reflect a "misunderstanding" of grid reliability.

"The interconnections are in reality quite far apart from each other," she said.

The transmission lines are connected to different substations and were reinforced after the 1998 ice storm, she said, adding they must meet stringent international standards to carry power to New England.

Atlantic Link would send clean energy from Atlantic Canada directly to Massachusetts. (Emera)

Emera is offering Massachussetts 5.69 terrawatts of the 9.45 terrawatts it's looking for. It would be transmitted by a cable running underwater from Coleson Cove, N.B. to Plymouth, Mass. — far from Hydro-Québec's lines.

Seven wind farms in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia would generate the power, with existing hydro dams in New Brunswick and current and future dams in Newfoundland and Labrador serving as back-up sources.

Emera's bid summary raises other questions about Hydro-Québec's electricity being as reliable as Emera's.

There is no suggestion that Hydro-Québec has not been a reliable supplier.- Stacey Pineau, Emera spokesperson

The Quebec utility exports about the same amount of electricity that it buys at a low price from the Churchill Falls dam in Labrador, Emera said, and that contract expires in 2041, not that far in the future given that major electricity projects are built for several decades.

"As the end of that contract draws closer," the Emera transmission link "creates options" for Massachusetts, the company said.

Promoting 'enhanced reliability'

No one from Emera would agree to an interview but in an emailed statement, spokesperson Stacey Pineau said the company was merely promoting its own "enhanced reliability."

"There is no suggestion that Hydro-Québec has not been a reliable supplier," she said.

Hydro-Québec and NB Power have a long history together. The two power grids are linked and supply each other with electricity. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

St-Laurent pointed out the Massachusetts contract is for 20 years and what happens after that with Churchill Falls is "highly speculative." But she said open-access rules mean the state will still be able to get the electricity it needs.

Emera's bid also argues that environmental impacts from its project will be "minimal and temporary in duration" because the deep-sea cable requires no new transmission towers and lines to be built on land.

Hydro-Québec's proposal requires new transmission lines, and at least one of its options, the Northern Pass, has met opposition in New Hampshire.

Residents said transmission towers in the White Mountains National Forest and in wetlands will mar the scenery and affect the environment.

Experience in New England

Hydro-Québec's submission, though, points to its experience in New England, describing itself as "a long-standing partner in the northeast." The utility is already certified by New England's independent electrical grid operator as a reliable source of power.

Hydro-Québec also notes its existing network of massive power dams in northern Quebec "produce energy that is available today, in significant quantities" — a possible jab at delays at the Muskrat Falls power dam in Labrador.

The project's estimated cost has also ballooned from $7.4 billion to $12.7 billion.

Massachusetts power utilities issued the call for clean-energy proposals to comply with a 2016 law that requires the use of more electricity that doesn't produce carbon dioxide emissions.

NB Power would supply some hydro power and is also a potential investor in the Emera bid. It would help fund the project in return for a share of the revenue.

NB Power and Hydro-Québec have a long history together. The two power grids are linked and supply each other with electricity.

In 2009, the New Brunswick and Quebec governments negotiated an agreement to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec, but the deal collapsed before it was finalized.


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. Raised in Moncton, he also produces the CBC political podcast Spin Reduxit.