Newfoundland pushes hydro projects

Lower Churchill project promises major jobs and energy export opportunities.

April 30, 2012   by PLANT STAFF

ST. JOHN’S: A hydroelectric project in Newfoundland is set to transform the province’s industrial development and provide significant economic and environmental benefits, at least according to CIBC’s vice-chairman, Jim Prentice.

The keynote speaker at a Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association luncheon, Prentice expressed his support for the Lower Churchill projects, which include building the Muskrat Falls and Gull Island projects, while suggesting the projects would generate widespread prosperity and prove environmentally sustainable.

“In my view, Lower Churchill is all this and more. It is a transformational project for Atlantic Canada that will take the region to a new level of industrial development. It will also help move our country closer to becoming a true clean energy superpower – an enviable goal for reasons both environmental and economic.”

He noted that a recent Public Utilities Board report on Lower Churchill has “muddied the waters” rather than providing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with clarity and that he would bring the projects before the legislature for a new debate.

“History will be the judge of the actions of our provincial and our federal politicians when it comes time to make the challenging decisions on moving forward with an investment in Lower Churchill,” he said. “This is how it should be – how it must be with projects of ambition that will have a long-term impact on the provincial economy. The ultimate decision rests with the people we elect.”

But when it comes to deciding on energy megaprojects, he believes elected officials need to look beyond today to see the world five, 10 and even 25 years in the future.

“An element of foresight must be brought to bear – an element of vision. When developed, the Lower Churchill will ultimately be judged as an investment not over the course of its construction but over the course of its lifetime. The longer term benefits of this investment will certainly be worth the financial risk today,” he said. “Hibernia, the Upper Churchill, James Bay, the oil sands: none of these were a slam dunk. Each of these major infrastructure investments proceeded because smart people had the vision to look toward tomorrow – and the foresight to see the world as it would be. Each of these projects was controversial. Each had opponents. And each, in the end, has delivered value and economic growth.”

Proponents of the project said it would create 16,000 person years of employment in the province and that there are significant export opportunities in the US and in Canada once the Muskrat Falls and Gull Island projects are completed.

He cited the New England states where 55% of electricity generation comes from the burning of fossil fuels, versus only 13% from hydro and renewable—and where the electricity grid is in need of significant upgrade.

“Here is an opportunity for Canada and the US to work together to ensure that we realize the full potential for growth of the American market for clean Canadian hydro. The amount of power available for export would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of taking 3.2 million cars off the road,” said Prentice. “And then we look to the west – to Ontario, a province that is moving aggressively to wean itself off coal, a province that will require new sources of clean electricity as its population grows.”

To deliver on these economic and environmental benefits he called for Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland to sit down and work out a long-term plan to deliver clean, renewable, affordable power into markets with high demand.

“I am neither a Quebecer nor a Newfoundlander. But I have read enough and was a federal politician long enough to understand the history of mutual sensitivities about Upper and Lower Churchill,” he said. “But we have before us a game-changing regional energy play for the 21st century – a project with the potential to bring together three provinces in the pursuit of economic prosperity and the advancement of environmental good. This is no time for the grinding of axes.”

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