After a brief mention in the 2020 speech from the throne, the Atlantic Loop appeared again in the federal Liberals’ fall economic update. And it’s going to be popping up again this spring, if not sooner.
The fall announcement included a $25-million nugget for the Atlantic Loop and other projects (though no other projects were named) to be used in 2021-22, “to help some proponents complete engineering assessments, community engagement, and environmental and regulatory studies.” The work is also generally expected to feed information to the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to allow the CIB to assess whatever’s put on the table.
Because it is still in such an early stage, no one has been able to say exactly what the Atlantic Loop will entail, other than generally it would include new transmission lines.
The Atlantic Loop is actually an extension of work on a Clean Power Roadmap for Atlantic Canada—a far less catchy, bureaucratic title. That project, involving provinces and utilities, followed an agreement by the premiers in 2019 to produce and circulate more renewable power, with $2 million then offered by the feds for related “studies and analysis,” including modeling possible changes to the transmission system, and a look at policy and regulation.
A final report on the Clean Power Roadmap project is expected by March 2021. Expect to hear more Loop references as that comes.
The bottom line is Atlantic Canada needs to be better able to move more power—that now being hydro power from Labrador and Quebec—to regions transitioning from non-renewable fuels, first and foremost coal.
It’s not a new concept, but carbon taxation, climate change-related commitments, the need for fossil fuel plant closures and calls (including from power utilities) for greater electrification are all fueling a need for new infrastructure sooner rather than later. Prince Edward Island wants to increase the amount of wind power on the island (and for export); Nova Scotia needs to end coal power usage and find its substitute; New Brunswick is looking for imports that can get the province to the federal targets.
“What I do know is we cannot solve for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 if we do not enhance our interconnections with our neighbours,” said Keith Cronkhite, NB Power president and CEO in the fall, during a session on regional energy partnerships and the energy future, hosted by the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC).
“What I do know is we can’t solve this individually without costs going up,” he said.
The announcement of an Atlantic Loop didn’t, in the words of Marie Kondo, “spark joy” for many in Newfoundland and Labrador who are watching the lay of the land. “Immediately, it was embraced by Newfoundland worthies as one of the long-awaited answers to the Muskrat Falls (hydro project) debacle. Yet, it contained not a shred of evidence that this province has a role to play,” noted “Uncle Gnarley” blogger Des Sullivan, also a member in the Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition.
But Newfoundland and Labrador Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne, also a lawyer with Browne Fitzgerald Morgan & Avis, says he likes the loop project in concept, particularly as federally led. “Because this province and indeed other provinces are into parochialism. The regional projects have always been downplayed for a provincial interest. So, it will require new concepts and the idea of a federal loop can be a driving force for that, to show the benefits of regionalism and having a regional system,” he said.
Ultimately, there’s no true evaluation the public can undertake until the Clean Power Plan and all of the pieces of the Atlantic Loop are put on the table. •