Feds send 'positive' signal on B.C.-Alberta power line: Energy minister

Peter O'Neil

[Webpage editor's note: Sharing energy infastructure for greater efficiency of supply is good, but not as part of expanding environmentally-destructive projects (like Site C) in order to power other environmentally destructive projects (like the tar sands).]


Nov 5, 2016 - The Trudeau government has sent a “quite positive” signal that it is prepared to help finance a new transmission link to ship clean B.C. hydroelectric power to Alberta, according to provincial energy minister Bill Bennett.

Bennett was responding to federal Minister of Finance Bill Morneau’s autumn economic statement this week, which contained two statements indicating support for such a project.

Morneau announced a $35-billion infrastructure bank that could, among other things, facilitate “an interprovincial clean energy grid project through the provision of a loan guarantee to lower risk and reduce financing costs for the proponent.”

Later in the federal document, in a section outlining plans for $21.9 billion in spending over 11 years on green infrastructure, there is an even more specific reference to the kind of project that has been advocated by Premier Christy Clark.

“Projects that may receive these additional investments include … inter-provincial transmission lines that reduce reliance on coal,” the statement reads.


Clark has been pushing the federal and Alberta governments to support the construction of a new line — estimated to cost in the range of $1 billion — so that B.C. can help its neighbour wean itself off its dependence on coal.

Clark’s pitch has been linked to the vow by Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley to phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2030 as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While Morneau’s office has refused to comment on the matter, Bennett said the two statements send an obvious signal that Ottawa is interested in B.C.’s idea.

“We don’t know the details yet, but it’s quite positive, I think, about where this is going to go,” Bennett said.

A federal loan guarantee wouldn’t likely be of great benefit for B.C. Hydro, he noted, since the utility and the province can both borrow at cheap rates due to the province’s strong credit rating.

But the notion of a direct federal contribution, perhaps through a private-public partnership, could be a deal-maker.

“I think it’s quite bold actually. I’m happy to see them going in that direction, so there may be opportunities to do public-private partnerships on transmission lines,” Bennett said.

“It sounds like they’re planning on direct investments, and sharing costs, and that is certainly consistent with conversations we’ve had with the federal government.

“So we’re hoping that getting the western grid developed and doing an inter-tie (a connection between two electricity utility systems) between B.C. and Alberta is not limited to loan guarantees.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was open to the idea in an exclusive June interview with Postmedia.

“I think anything we can work together interprovincially or nationally on (getting) emissions down, you know, emphasizing hydroelectricity, creating opportunities to get off coal, to get off natural gas, where possible, this is good for the country, it’s good for our emissions profile, it’s good for the economy we need to build,” he said during a visit to Vancouver.

“So I’m open to discussing proposals when they come forward, but so far we haven’t had any formal proposals.”

Notley had previously said her government wouldn’t bite on the transmission line idea unless the Clark government showed more openness to her plea for an oilsands pipeline to the West Coast.

That statement, in turn, has prompted media speculation that federal and Albertan support for a transmission line could help meet one of the five conditions Clark has laid out before her government supports one of the major proposals to ship diluted bitumen crude west.

That condition calls for B.C. getting more of the financial benefits from such a project, in recognition of the fact that the province would assume by far the greatest environmental and safety risks of a new pipeline.

There have been other signals that Ottawa, which has said it will decide on whether to approve the proposed $6.8-billion Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project by Dec. 19, is trying to meet Clark’s demands.

The federal government has told B.C. stakeholders to be prepared to gather in Vancouver on Monday for a major announcement on creating a “world class” coastal marine safety regime.

Trudeau is expected to be at the announcement, though officials haven’t yet confirmed his attendance.

Bennett wouldn’t speculate on whether Morneau’s apparent reference to the B.C.-Alberta project is linked to an appeal for B.C.’s support for an oilsands pipeline.

“The only thing I can say, that I’m absolutely sure of, because I’m not going to speak for my boss, is that unless and until we’re sure we have a safe West Coast for shipping petroleum products, we’re not in,” he said.

“It’s not that we don’t want to be in. We actually understand the need to move Canadian products east to west … Our companies get a better price for their product when we go offshore.

“But we made it pretty clear, we’re responsible for what happens on the West Coast. And hopefully what they have to announce about a world-class regulatory regime that’s under their jurisdiction will be enough to check that box off.”

A 2009 study by the B.C. Transmission Corp. and the Alberta Electric System Operator concluded that the potential benefits of a new inter-tie “are considered to be very significant.”

The report said such an initiative could result in “reduced volatility of power pricing in Alberta, increased electricity trading opportunities for B.C. and access to emergency backup power for both provinces,” noted the Vancouver Sun’s Vaughn Palmer in a column earlier this year.

However, the report also said that given costs and market conditions at the time, a “compelling case” for the project could not be made.

The report considered two options, the first being a new 488-kilometre line along the same route as an existing interconnection, from southeastern B.C. to a substation near Calgary.