Province won't delay Link decision3/20/2013
The province isn’t going to extend a government-imposed deadline for a decision on the Maritime Link project, despite complaints from interveners, Energy Minister Charlie Parker said Tuesday.
A coalition of interveners, as well as individual ones, wrote Premier Darrell Dexter on Tuesday, asking that the six-month time frame be extended.
But Parker said the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has enough time to rule on the proposed subsea cable project.
“The (board) has the perimeters under which they’re working,” he said from Port Hawkesbury, where a provincewide government tour to promote the link was making a stop.
“If they feel they need additional time for interveners to review the material, that will be their decision.”
Parker said the provincial regulator is able to change its schedule for various regulatory filings in the case. But a decision on the $1.5-billion project is still expected by the end of July, he said.
A hearing on the Emera Inc.-led proposal is slated to begin May 27 in Halifax.
A spokesman for one group that asked the premier for more time said 180 days is proving to be not enough.
“We have to ask government for the amount of time that we need. This is an enormous project,” said Todd McDonald, spokesman for the Lower Power Rates Alliance of Nova Scotia.
The coalition that wrote to Dexter also included the opposition parties and two environmental groups, the Sierra Club of Canada and Grand Riverkeeper Labrador.
McDonald said his group has had concerns from the outset about the amount of time for the hearing. He said it became clear last week that it’s impossible for interveners to adequately review filings in the case.
He said two Emera subsidiaries filed 19,000 pages of evidence last week, giving interveners a week or less to respond with another round of questions.
“The energy minister is going around the province right now saying (Muskrat Falls) is the fairest, lowest rate,” the alliance spokesman said. “I think what’s fair is to have all parties in a room and decide what’s a fair amount of time.”
McDonald, whose group has been critical of the link project, said he thinks at least another six months are needed to study the proposal.
The coalition, which made its request a week before the legislature resumes sitting next Tuesday, received support from other interveners.
Halifax-area lawyers John Merrick, the provincially appointed consumer advocate, and Nelson Blackburn, the small-business advocate, both wrote the premier, saying they agreed with the group’s stance. The Ottawa-based Canadian Wind Energy Association also sent a letter to Dexter.
Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said the New Democrats are trying to rush the project through the board to avoid scrutiny.
“This process is not the independent review of the Muskrat Falls project that Nova Scotians deserve,” he said in a news release.
Emera subsidiaries NSP Maritime Link Inc. and Nova Scotia Power filed the cable project with the board on Jan. 28. That triggered the six-month countdown for a decision on whether the link is the lowest-cost option for meeting the province’s green-energy goals.
Nova Scotia must also comply with new federal greenhouse gas emission rules that require the province to reduce its reliance on coal-fired generation for electricity.
The province passed legislation last fall that set guidelines for the board’s review of the cable project.
Parker said there was public consultation on the Maritime Link Act, and the board and various interveners were consulted about the proposed legislation.
The energy minister also said an open-ended process isn’t feasible because of a federal loan guarantee to help develop Labrador hydroelectricity.
“They wanted certainty in this review process. They didn’t want it to drag on for too long, ” he said of Ottawa’s involvement, which will reduce borrowing costs for the link project by more than $100 million.
An Emera spokeswoman said the legislated time line is similar to those of other board hearings.
“It really isn’t a change,” Sasha Irving said. “There have been a lot of information requests. We have responded to all of those and provided all of the information that’s been asked for so far and continue to do that in this next round.”
Emera is partnered with Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Crown-owned utility, on the Muskrat Falls venture. The $7.7-billion megaproject is slated to begin operating in late 2017.
Nova Scotia Power’s parent company would cover 20 per cent of the project’s cost and receive 20 per cent of the electricity in return as part of a 35-year deal.
The province would get Emera’s share of the electricity at a fixed cost for 35 years if ratepayers cover the cost of building the 170-kilometre subsea cable across the Cabot Strait.
That’s enough power to meet eight to 10 per cent of Nova Scotia’s annual supply, with an option to buy more at market prices.
Critics have questioned the total cost of the link project. They also say the province should take a closer look at alternatives, which include building more wind farms and natural gas plants, or importing power from Quebec and other areas.
(The Chronicle Herald)