HALIFAX – Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter says a barrage of criticism from consumer groups during regulatory hearings into the Muskrat Falls project that wrapped up Thursday in Halifax doesn’t faze him.
The province’s consumer and small business advocates as well as an alliance of industrial customers that includes Michelin and Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) have all raised concerns about a proposal by utility company Emera (TSX:EMA) to build a subsea cable that would ship Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity to Nova Scotia. That proposal is before Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board, which is expected to issue a ruling by the end of next month.
Lawyers for those groups have hammered away at the idea during the proceedings, questioning whether it would benefit Nova Scotia energy customers who would foot the $1.5-billion bill for the 180-kilometre Maritime Link. In exchange, the province would receive 20 per cent of the power from Muskrat Falls — or about 10 per cent of Nova Scotia’s needs.
At one point earlier this week, Peter Gurnham, the chairman of the panel hearing the proposal, wondered aloud why no consumer groups back the Maritime Link if it is the best option for Nova Scotia’s future needs.
Dexter said Thursday he is not perturbed by the chorus of criticism, saying it’s the raison d’etre for consumer groups to question such developments.
“If you have a consumer group that endorses things that come along, they’re out of business,” he said.
“The simple reality is that this is a project that … will change our energy landscape in this province for many, many years.”
Dexter said he stands by his position that the Maritime Link is in Nova Scotia’s best interests and nothing said during the hearings changed that view because it is a visionary project that will help wean the province off of dirty, coal-fired power plants.
“It’s a good opportunity for Nova Scotia no matter what,” he said.
Opponents have argued during the hearings over the past two weeks that the initial block of power will be expensive and there are no guarantees that Nova Scotians will be able to purchase electricity beyond their allotted amount.
Gurnham has said it’s likely conditions would be attached should the board approve the Maritime Link. Emera has said there are no definite backup plans for a revised Maritime Link development if the regulator doesn’t accept its proposal.
Emera CEO Chris Huskilson said Thursday that if the board’s decision calls for major changes, the deal with Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Crown energy company, isn’t guaranteed to survive.
“This is a deal we constructed over years,” he said. “If the conditions become so fundamental that they change the deal, then we’ll have given back the decision to Newfoundland.”
Both opposition parties have also voiced their objections to the Maritime Link proposal. On Thursday, Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil said the 35-year deal warranted greater scrutiny by the government.
“This … is further proof that the NDP are guided by the interests of Nova Scotia Power and Emera more than the residential and business ratepayers in this province,” McNeil said in a statement.