A $4-Billion Clean Energy Project That Could Boost the N.B. Economy Is on the Horizon

The $15-billion Energy East pipeline project is officially dead, but there is another potential multi-billion-dollar energy project on the horizon – and a clean energy one at that.

Emera currently has a $4-billion proposal before the Massachusetts government to supply clean energy to the state from seven wind farms (five in New Brunswick, two in Nova Scotia) and two hydro suppliers. The power would be transferred from Coleson Cove in Saint John to Plymouth, Massachusetts via the Atlantic Link, a proposed 370-mile, high-voltage subsea cable.

It’s by no means a guarantee because it is a competitive bidding process to supply Massachusetts with 9.45 terawatt hours of wind and/or hydro energy per year over the next 20 years (Emera is proposing to supply 5.69 terawatt hours of that allotment in its bid). But it would create thousands of jobs in the construction phase and put in place wind-generation and undersea-cable infrastructure that could lead to other future developments in the province.

The various proposals have been submitted and are currently under review with a decision expected in January of next year.

Huddle editor Mark Leger recently spoke by phone with Boston-based Gerald Weseen, the VP, U.S. Government Affairs, for Clean Power Northeast Development, a subsidiary of Emera Inc. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Take me back to the beginnings of the proposed Atlantic Link.

There’s been a [long-running] discussion about energy collaboration between New England and Atlantic Canada. The concept of moving energy between the two regions is not new, and the concept of moving clean energy between Atlanta Canada and New England is certainly not new.

For context, there’s a fairly close linkage on public policy in terms of the desire to change the generation mix and move toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector in both Atlanta Canada and New England. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, there are state laws on the books that require economy-wide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 80 percent by 2050.

And so in Massachusetts in 2016, the legislature and the Senate approved a bill that governor Governor Baker signed into law that required the electric utilities to do two procurements of clean energy.

One procurement is the one that Emera has bid on. [It] requires the utilities to procure 9.45 terawatt hours of hydro and/or wind energy per year. [It] would bring clean energy from Atlantic Canada into southern New England.

[Our] proposal that went into the Massachusetts procurement process involves a 1,000-megawatt high-voltage direct current transmission line (HVDC) going from Colson Cove to Plymouth Massachusetts, which is about a 45-minute-drive south of Boston.

The energy would come from new wind farms in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and hydro from NB Power and Nalcor Energy in Newfoundland and Labrador. About 70 percent of the energy that’s proposed for delivery to New England via the Atlantic link transmission cable is wind and the rest of it is hydro. The hydro-wind combination is important because wind is an intermittent resource and the hydro basically fills in the gaps and allows a more predictable flow of energy on a scheduled basis, which is important to the receiving utilities in Massachusetts.

The scale of the project [is] enormous. How how did you hit upon the idea of tying these wind farms into a subsea cable like this?

Emera is just completing construction of the Maritime Link, which is a 170-kilometer subsea cable between Newfoundland and northern Nova Scotia. The cables were laid this summer, and that transmission facility is going to be in service by the end of this calendar year. Ultimately Maritime Link will be the conduit for energy from the Muskrat Falls hydro project, which will supply energy to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, but is also under contract to provide energy to Nova Scotia Power.

There’s some excess energy from that project and some of that energy has been committed to the Atlantic Link project. Some of it could potentially come from other hydro sources in Newfoundland and also some of the hydro would come from NB Power.

NBPower also has an option to participate in the Atlantic wind project as an equity partner, but that’s a decision that they will make at a later time.

High-voltage direct current is a very efficient way to move large amounts of electricity long distances, and the experience we’ve had with Maritime Link and the distance between Atlantic Canada and New England, and the difficulty in siting and constructing overhead transmission through multiple states, makes a subsea cable pretty attractive.

How long would the Atlantic Link cable be compared to the one for Maritime Link?

About three [or four] times as long. We have two options that we’ve been discussing and they’re about the same length – around 370 miles or 600 kilometres.

Are there undersea cables for other projects around the world that are that long?

There are multiple dozens of HVDC (high-voltage direct current) subsea cables, mostly in northern Europe. The proposed length of Atlantic Link would make it the longest cable today, although there are several proposed [ones] that could be in service prior to the Atlantic Link being in service that would be longer.

So this is becoming a very common way of transmitting electricity.

It is, especially large amounts of electricity over long distances for sure. High-voltage direct current (HVDC) is used for overland transmission; it’s not just for subsea transmission. The technology is a very efficient way to move large amounts of electricity over long distances. In some circumstances using this technology for a subsea connection makes sense because it’s either a more direct path or you might avoid some of the complications of putting up towers and doing overhead transmission.

This project is about supplying electricity to the New England market. What are the benefits to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia of engaging in a development designed to serve other markets?

There are a number of [benefits]. The electric infrastructure that’s being built has a very long life – this contract is for 20 years. Most of the facilities that would be built in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to meet that demand will be in service beyond that [time frame]. So there’s the potential for those facilities to actually serve customers in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia in the future.

There is [also] the infrastructure that goes into building that and connecting the markets [which] creates greater options in terms of moving electricity back and forth. The Atlantic Link, as currently proposed, will be about two-thirds utilized so there’ll be additional capacity on the line once it’s built for the movement of energy between Atlantic Canada and New England outside of what’s under contract for the Atlantic Link.

In terms of the actual development of the wind farms, the construction of the converter station and substation, and the onshore work of getting ready to lay the cable, there are the jobs associated with that construction. We had a third-party analysis done by a company called Power Advisory. Over the construction period, 7,500-7,700 full-time equivalent jobs [would be] created over that time period.

On an ongoing basis, there’s tax revenue for the communities in which the wind farms are located, probably about $10- to 15-million of local property taxes a year. There would be lease payments to landowners. There [would be] ongoing operation and maintenance benefits. In order to run the wind farms there will be jobs associated with that, but also money being spent in local communities.

From an NB Power perspective, moving the energy from the location of the wind farm to the converter station at Coleson Cove will involve the use of NB Power transmission facilities and for that, it would be paid a fee.

I’m sure this must be ‘old hat’ to you by now, but the scale of it is fascinating – the different pieces that you’ve put together for this.

It’s been a very interesting process to be part of the conversation. [I] spent a long time in New Brunswick first and then in Nova Scotia and been involved in some of the regional conversations about energy and about greenhouse gas emissions reductions and about regional cooperation. This has been really fascinating because now we’ve expanded the cooperation conversation from just being within Atlantic Canada to being between Atlanta Canada and New England.

It is definitely a large-scale project, and it’s about the exchange and the shared achievement of clean energy goals between regions that have a relatively similar public policy structure and objective in terms of both clean energy development and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

A $4-Billion Clean Energy Project That Could Boost the N.B. Economy Is on the Horizon