Nova Scotia

Emera forced to bury a third of Maritime Link's submarine cable

Halifax-based energy conglomerate Emera buried 59 kilometres of electrical cables beneath the ocean floor between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland this past summer to protect the Maritime Link from "substantially increased" bottom fishing the company did not see coming.

Fishing industry welcomes move to protect cables from deepwater bottom trawling

The cables were buried one metre below the bottom surface. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Halifax-based energy conglomerate Emera buried 59 kilometres of electrical cables beneath the ocean floor between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland this past summer to protect the Maritime Link from "substantially increased" bottom fishing the company did not see coming.

Completed in 2017, the $1.5-billion Maritime Link was built to carry electricity generated from the Muskrat Falls hydro project in Labrador into Nova Scotia and on to New England.

This week, Emera subsidiary Nova Scotia Power Maritime Link disclosed that in August and September it buried its two submarine cables at 400 metres water depth after discussions with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the fishing industry.

The company is responding to an unforeseen explosion in the population of redfish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is now estimated at three million tonnes and expected to trigger a years-long fishing bonanza in the Cabot Strait.

The cables were buried one metre below the bottom surface, NSP Maritime Link said in an update to Nova Scotia regulators.

Significant bottom trawling for redfish is expected as soon as 2020. (Submitted by Marine Institute)

"These cables had not been previously trenched due to the absence of fishing activities at those depths when the cables were originally installed," spokesperson Jeff Myrick said in an email.

"DFO indicated the redfish population had unexpectedly rebounded and substantially increased fishing activity is expected in 2020. Given the location of the redfish population, the historically mid-water fishery will now involve significant bottom trawling activity, especially at and below 400 meters water depth."

The decision to bury the cables is not a surprise.

In the spring, the Emera subsidiary said it was looking at the idea after an inspection in 2018 revealed "cable contact from a dragged object" in deepwater and DFO warned of increased redfish harvesting.

Are ratepayers on the hook? Aye.

Nexans, the French cable giant that laid the submarine cables in 2017, was hired to trench them.

The cost was not disclosed.

The bill will be presented to regulators when the company applies to recover Maritime Link costs from Nova Scotia Power ratepayers in 2020.

Workers transfer cable onto the Norwegian ship Skagerrak, which was used to install the Maritime Link's subsea cables in 2017. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Nova Scotia Power customers are paying for the Maritime Link in return for a minimum of 20 per cent of the electricity generated by Muskrat Falls over 35 years.

The hydro generation portion of the project is two years behind schedule and first electricity is not expected until the second quarter of 2020 at the earliest.

The two 200-kilovolt electrical submarine cables spanning the Cabot Strait are the longest in North America. They are each 170 kilometres long and weigh 5,500 tonnes.

Fishing industry praises Emera

Meanwhile, the fishing industry is applauding Emera.

Kris Vascotto of the Atlantic Groundfish Council said the decision to bury the cables is "a clear example of Emera listening to the needs of other industries."

"We had the opportunity to discuss our concerns with Emera, to outline some mitigation measures that we could have in place," said Vascotto.

"We can have harvesting activity and harvesting operations that don't interact with very valuable infrastructure that will provide sustainable power from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia."

Vascotto said at one metre, the cables will be buried three times below the depth penetrated by the weighted "doors" that keep the trawl nets open and on the ocean floor.

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About the Author

Paul Withers

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Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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