MARITIME LINK COMPLETED BUT OVERCOST AND ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS REMAIN
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by Michelle Moore
Zurich based multinational ABB has formally handed over the Maritime Link Project to Emera, the energy utility company based in Halifax and owner of the project through its subsidiary Nova Scotia Power (NSP) Maritime Link Inc.
Since December 2017, The Maritime Link Project has made it possible for electricity produced in Newfoundland to be transmitted to Nova Scotia and the rest of the North American grid by way of overland transmission lines and undersea cables.
The project links the two provinces allowing a surplus of hydroelectricity produced in Newfoundland and Labrador to be passed on to potential consumers in the rest of Canada.
The 500 megawatt project transfers electricity produced at the Nalcor-owned Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dams. Nalcor is a Crown corporation of the Newfoundland and Labrador government. It travels by way of the 1100 kilometre Labrador-Island Transmission Link of which 30 kilometres are under the Strait of Belle Isle.
The Maritime Link then runs from Granite Canal in Newfoundland to Woodbine, Nova Scotia. This includes a second undersea cable of 170 kilometres under the Cabot Strait between Cape Ray, Newfoundland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
This includes a High Voltage direct current (HVdc) transmission line, and a 230 kilovolt High Voltage alternating current transmission line and associated infrastructure.
ABB Canada Communications Chief Carley Tietolman explained HVdc as "a system for high power transmission that can transmit more electrical power over longer distances with less losses than an alternating current (AC) transmission system."
Tietolman said "HVdc transmission is also very stable and easily controlled and can stabilize and interconnect AC power networks that are otherwise incompatible."
When asked what benefits the Maritime Link Project would bring to Nova Scotians and Canadians at large Tietolman said that the grid has been rendered more stable as well as allowing other power sources to be integrated such as wind power.
Tietolman added "for Nova Scotia, the Link will create a more diversified portfolio of energy options, reduce dependency on existing commercial scale carbon-based generation facilities, and help new government regulations that require 40% renewable energy by 2020."
Some however are not convinced that the project is strictly beneficial. Muskrat Falls, the initial phase of the project caused some controversy that saw protests, arrests and hunger strikes over a two-year period.
Located roughly 30 kilometres west of Happy Valley-Goose Bay on the lower Churchill River in Labrador, Muskrat Falls preoccupied the Inuit who inhabit the region.
The Nunatsiavut government launched a campaign to bring attention to their concerns that the flooding of the 41 kilometre reservoir for the dam would contaminate the Churchill River and in turn, Lake Melville with methylmercury.
Methylmercury is a neurotoxin linked to heart issues, intellectual problems in children and other effects. Fish is a major food source for the Inuit living by Lake Melville and they fear that levels of methylmercury would increase as a result of flooding such a large area of forest.
Their campaign includes a petition that states "new evidence shows that the Muskrat Falls hydro dam will contaminate the food that thousands of Inuit rely on, harming Inuit health and culture and violating Inuit and human rights."
The petition refers to a 2016 Harvard study published in Environmental Science and Technology that explored the potential human health impacts of flooding large areas for hydroelectric dams.
Ryan Calder, first author of the paper and graduate student in the Sunderland Lab said "for a population that relies heavily on locally caught food, the increase in exposure is drastic ... we see substantial fractions of this population whose pre-flooding methylmercury exposure is at or below regulatory thresholds and post-flooding are pushed way above them without mitigation measures."
The Nunatsiavut government urged Nalcor to remove the trees and soil before flooding the reservoir which would reduce the potential increase in the levels of methylmercury in the water.
Nalcor partially agreed, removing the trees but leaving the soil as it was.
Shortly before the results of the study were revealed Newfoundland MP Nick Whalen made a remark on social media that heightened tensions over the project. On October 23, 2016 Whalen posted on Twitter that if the levels were too high they could "eat less fish."
Whalen quickly apologized after deleting the comment saying he was sorry for "the insensitive comments made on social media and regret any offence I have caused."
Most recently on May 8, 2018, several elders and protesters were arrested for trespassing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. They were held for roughly 30 minutes after attempting to deliver photos of children from the community to Prime Minister Trudeau.
A Commission of Inquiry is currently underway right now into the Muskrat Falls Project. Announced in November 2017, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador Dwight Ball said
"through this public inquiry, we will learn if the project today, is the project the people of the province were sold in 2012."
Premier Ball continued, "while we cannot undo the past, we can learn from it and make more informed decisions as we take actions to minimize the impact of this project on ratepayers."
Judge Richard LeBlanc will focus on how the projected cost of $7.2 billion grew to in fact be $12.7 billion by June 2017. As part of the inquiry, an investigative and forensic audit will be done prior to public hearings that start in September 2018.
Two weeks ago, the Commission of Inquiry notified citizens the first phase of hearings would be held in Happy Valley-Goose Bay between September 17 and 27.