Power Response

Yesterday Jim Morton, MLA for Kings North and Ministerial Assistant to Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, provided a response to my article of May 22. I am delighted that he is willing to engage in dialogue on this issue of such critical importance to the welfare of Nova Scotian households and the viability of crucial employers.

I should start by saying that the opinions I present are mine and do not speak for any political party. I have been glad to congratulate the government on good choices, and some of the initiatives I advocate have not found their way into any party’s platform. On the other hand Mr. Morton is a member of the governing party so I hope he will, on behalf of the government, respond to the questions raised below.

He says, “the real reason power rates are increasing in Nova Scotia is because past governments – both Conservative and Liberal – had the chance to start reducing the province’s reliance on expensive fossil fuels but did nothing.”

Actually the use of coal was, up until the day this government was sworn in, still the least expensive fuel based source of electricity in North America. Whether a better deal might have been available from Hydro Quebec is purely conjectural. That possibility does not appear to have been pursued by his government. But the price Hydro Quebec has been able to demand in the New England market has historically been governed by the coal-based alternative. Coal is still cheaper than wind. Does Mr. Morton feel any of the above statements are untrue?

He says, “Mr. Black seems to think that Nova Scotia should switch from coal to natural gas, forgetting that the price tag would be $1 billion or more, and ratepayers would still be stuck with fossil fuels”

That is not what I said. I have no idea what it would cost to replace coal plants with natural gas plants. What I did say was that natural gas, while generating 60% less greenhouse gases than coal, appears to be set for a prolonged period of low prices. It is the reason that electricity prices are going down in New England while NSPI proposes yet more increases for Nova Scotians. What I advocate is that the UARB’s mandate in considering the Muskrat Falls project should include an evaluation of a natural gas based alternative. Does Mr. Morton agree that such an evaluation would serve the interests of electricity consumers?

He says, “(Black) is simply wrong when he says the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board will not be permitted to assess the value of other sources of energy, like hydroelectricity out of Quebec. The Premier made it very clear that the Board is free to review other projects in addition to the Lower Churchill development’’.

The Premier was quoted on May 17 as saying, “The Muskrat Falls project is going ahead. It is part of an economic strategy. It is part of an electricity provision strategy. It is an agreement between us and Newfoundland & Labrador.”  Has the Premier been misquoted? If not, what is the purpose of evaluating alternatives? We do not yet have a price for Muskrat Falls power. Is there a price which Mr. Morton would agree is too high for the project to proceed?

Finally  Bill 88, which creates the regulatory framework for the Maritime Link, specifically references agreements with Emera and Nalcor as suppliers. Is it not possible that someone other than Emera could offer a lower price to Nova Scotia ratepayers for the transmission line? Does Mr. Morton agree that other qualified firms should be offered the opportunity to bid on the project?

My interest in this is not to promote any political party’s agenda. It is to promote a dialogue about policy that will provide the lowest possible electricity rates while meeting the goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 25%. I sincerely hope that the dialogue continues.

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In response to Commentary of May 22, 2012: A $1.2B Untendered Contract

Bill Black is entitled to his opinion but he cannot revise history and create facts to justify what he says.

Despite what the failed Conservative candidate suggests, the real reason power rates are increasing in Nova Scotia is because past governments – both Conservative and Liberal – had the chance to start reducing the province’s reliance on expensive fossil fuels but did nothing.

The price of coal has increased 75 per cent over the past six years. Since the NDP came into power in 2009, the province has cut its dependence on coal by 27 per cent, with further reductions expected this year.

Mr. Black seems quite content to join his Conservative counterparts and resist support for historic opportunities like the Lower Churchill project, which will provide 35 years of clean energy at stable rates, open up regional power opportunities and create thousands of jobs.

Mr. Black seems to think that Nova Scotia should switch from coal to natural gas, forgetting that the price tag would be $1 billion or more, and ratepayers would still be stuck with fossil fuels.

He is simply wrong when he says the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board will not be permitted to assess the value of other sources of energy, like hydroelectricity out of Quebec. The Premier made it very clear that the Board is free to review other projects in addition to the Lower Churchill development.

Finally, I find it disappointing, although not very surprising, that Mr. Black is critical of investments that have helped create and maintain good jobs in the Valley and throughout this province – particularly the investment in Irving Shipbuilding.

Nova Scotia was part of the bid. The province did everything it could to ensure that this historic opportunity was brought home. Mr. Black seems to think that British Columbia took a better approach – enough said.

Nova Scotians want a government with a plan to move the province forward – not a party that is rooted in the failures of the past.

Jim Morton

Ministerial Assistant for Economic and Rural Development and Tourism

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