Muskrat Falls: Think ahead8/9/2012
Thus far, the debate over Muskrat Falls has been rather narrow and over-fixated on the short term. In addition to thinking about the uncertain per kilowatt-hour cost projections, it is important to think about creating an electricity infrastructure that is resilient and adaptive in the face of ongoing change and uncertainty.
Look at a map and you will see Nova Scotia is at the end of the transmission line, with only one, very small, connection to New Brunswick. The “fixed link” with Newfoundland will give Nova Scotia two connections. With that comes the opportunity to negotiate future prices and contracts with multiple sellers, giving us greater consumer power.
The added transmission can also help make Nova Scotia’s grid more reliable. The connection to hydroelectric resources could complement our domestic renewable energy industry. Unlike coal, nuclear and gas, a hydroelectric generating station can be turned on and off in seconds, and could act as a twin for renewable energy resources that vary with the wind/tide/sun.
We should exercise caution in placing too much faith in supply/demand forecasts (Bill Black, Aug. 1). The only certainty is that these forecasts will be wrong. It will take at least until 2017 to build this project. The relevant question is really if the project will make sense in the context of the challenges Nova Scotia will be facing in 2017 or 2020. At that time, will Nova Scotia be pleased to have access to a renewable, flexible source of energy with more import/export capability? Will we want to use the hydro resource and trading capability to complement development of electric vehicles, wind, tidal and solar energy? Or perhaps energy efficiency, smart grid and alternative energy storage technologies will be more attractive?
In 2020, will some folks still be questioning a 40 per cent renewable electricity target, or is the world going to wake up to the reality that climate change is a real problem and that a transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity systems is necessary by mid-century? Denmark has already passed legislation to get to 100 per cent renewable by 2050. Our long-term electricity planning should be considering a 100 per cent renewable or zero-carbon scenario by 2050, and finding out if and how Muskrat Falls plays a role in this future.
There are potential pitfalls and many questions that need to be asked concerning Muskrat Falls. However, nickel and diming the project and failing to consider the challenges we will face in coming decades is not the way to manage long-term infrastructure decisions in the context of complexity, uncertainty, volatile fuel costs and climate change.
Brendan Haley is a PhD candidate at Carleton’s School of Public Policy. He is studying the role of hydroelectricity in Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
(The Chronicle Herald)