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The Atlantic Link Project: What’s Next?

Last month, Halifax-based energy and services company Emera announced the initiation of their solicitation process for clean energy to be bundled with transmission capacity on the proposed Atlantic Link project.

The Atlantic Link project has been outlined as a 900-megawatt, high voltage direct current transmission line that will span approximately 560 kilometres underwater between the Coleson Cove generating station in Saint John and one of two potential sites in southern Massachusetts. The cost of the transmission line and converter stations needed to accommodate the project is estimated at $2 billion.

Image: atlanticlink.com

Launched as a response to an expected RFP for clean energy issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the project will aim to deliver renewable energy from a number of possible sources in Atlantic Canada into the New England electricity system.

Gerald Weseen, vice president of US government affairs for Emera, says their focus now is on responding to the request for proposals issued by the state of Massachusetts and conducting the energy solicitation process that will result in the selection of energy sources for the Atlantic Link.

The solicitation process will continue for a good part of this year and that’s the focus right now,” Weseen said. “We’re proposing to have the line in service by the end of 2022. There’s the time for construction but there’s also the time required for environmental permitting for approval of a presidential permit, which is required if you’re doing any kind of energy infrastructure that moves energy across the Canada, US border.”

Weseen says it’s too early to select contractors or issue tenders for the construction of the transmission line. While Emera is 100% owner of the project, NB Power has been involved in the development of the concept of the Atlantic Link and holds an option to participate in the Atlantic Link as a minority investor.

Weseen says that the need for clean energy in Massachusetts is coming from a requirement the state has for the electricity sector to reduce its emissions.

“Like Atlantic Canada, in the past a lot of the electricity generation in Massachusetts was coal,” he said. “The state has chosen to, as part of its greenhouse gas emission strategy, to reduce the emissions profile of the generation of electricity. This RFP that the state is issuing is a part of the state’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gases.”

Weseen says since it’s difficult to site large energy infrastructure in New England, the demand is there for clean energy from Atlantic Canada. He explains that the energy source would likely come in the form of wind, hydro or a combination of both.

“Emera is currently building the Maritime Link, which is a sub-sea cable to bring energy from the Muskrat Falls project from Newfoundland and Labrador into Nova Scotia,” Weseen said. “The company has some expertise in the construction of a sub-sea cable. We think we can bring that to the table in terms of the Massachusetts solicitation.”

New Brunswick’s Green Party leader David Coon says since Canada is also shifting to a low-carbon economy, there is a domestic need for renewable energy as well.

He recognizes the Atlantic Link project would create opportunities in New Brunswick for NB Power and private power producers, but says that it’s not the first time a project like this has been proposed and not come through due to cost and a lack of guaranteed market for the energy.

“There’s going to be plenty of opportunities without the line, given the coal phaseout and then they will expand if the line ever gets built,” Coon said.

“… Obviously, we need to address our domestic requirements before we’re looking at export opportunities. If some of that can be done at the same time, that’s fine … It’s all about planning, so what will our domestic requirements be in terms of generation and then surplus to that, what are the possibilities for export.”

Coon adds if the Atlantic Link project does progress into construction, there will need to be strengthened siting regulations for private renewable energy companies.

“… If you’re dealing with a diverse number of private developers who are building solely for export, then the requirements would have to be very clear in terms of siting and environmental impact assessment,” Coon said. “We haven’t got anything in place from the legislative perspective. We need to catch up on the legislative side.”

Registration through Power Advisory LLC, the independent administrator assigned to assure fairness and transparency of the Atlantic Link energy solicitation, for parties interested in providing renewable energy to be bundled with transmission service on the Atlantic Link closed as of Jan. 20. Emera will receive proposals from qualified parties until April 12 of this year.