April 14, 2011 - Canadian hydro imports as renewable

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What energy sources are renewable?  What does renewable mean?  Any state developing a renewable energy standard would be wise to consider these questions.  There is broad consensus on a core group of technologies, while the degree to which some other energy sources may be renewable remains a subject of debate.  When it comes to renewable portfolio standards - laws mandating that a certain portion of electricity sold be sourced from qualified renewable resources - it can take an act of the legislature to deem a particular resource type "renewable".
Wood pellets: biomass for homes, on display at a gas station.

The Nova Scotia Legislature is currently considering this very question.  The provincial minister of energy and natural resources proposed a bill to declare hydroelectricity "renewable electricity" by legislative mandate.  That bill, Bill No. 15 classifies hydroelectricity as renewable electricity, for the purpose of meeting Nova Scotia's 40% renewable electricity by 2020 goal.  Bill No. 15 would apply to hydroelectricity generated in Nova Scotia - there are about 40 small hydro plants in Nova Scotia, collectively supplying about 11% of provincial capacity - as well as to hydroelectricity produced elsewhere and imported into the province.

Many states and provinces are wrestling with the question of whether hydroelectricity imported from Canadian large-scale hydro projects should count towards their own renewable portfolio standards.  For many states in the northeastern US, importing hydroelectricity from Hydro-Quebec is one option; New Hampshire's review of the proposed Northern Pass transmission line raises these issues.  In Nova Scotia's case, the province is a partner in the Muskrat Falls portion of the Lower Churchill hydro resource in Labrador.  A 180-kilometer underwater cable called the Maritime Link will connect Labrador and Newfoundland with Nova Scotia.  Nova Scotia will put up 20% of the project capital, in exchange for which it will receive 170 megawatts of hydroelectricity for 35 years, with an option for an additional 330 megawatts.  The province expects this one project to account for a quarter of the province's 40% renewable mandate.

In this context, what does Bill No. 15 do?  By proposing to clarify that imported hydroelectricity counts toward the province's renewable energy standard, does the bill imply that it is not currently clear that hydro is renewable?  Or is Bill No. 15 simply part of the overall package of Nova Scotia's 40% renewable electricity mandate, helping clarify that Nova Scotia can rely on cost-effective regional resources in its pursuit of environmental goals?

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