Actual Media

Nation Building

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Will Canada bond together as one happy family to build an east-west transmission grid to carry energy to one and all? Is it even a good idea?

Just over 120 years ago this country was bounded together by Sir John A. MacDonald’s national dream of a transcontinental railway. Now some politicians are promoting another national dream – the construction of an east-west transmission grid that would meet Canada’s ever-increasing need for electricity.

That vision is viewed with some skepticism by industry observers such as David McFadden, partner with Toronto-based Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP and chair of its National Energy and Infrastructure Industry Group.

“It implies that something akin to the building of the CPR could occur,” says McFadden. “That’s not going to happen. The line loss from British Columbia to Ontario would be incredible.”

While the national grid may or may not occur, public and private sector agencies are overcoming tremendous obstacles to transmit power from new generation facilities into the grid.

Just one example is the development consisting of eight wind farms in Quebec’s Gaspé Bay region. It will add 990 megawatts of power to the grid (by 2012 at the latest), but not without the construction of 225 kilometres of new transmission lines, plus reinforcing an existing 270-kilometre line and other modifications, says Hydro-Québec’s Flavie Côté.

Building a transmission network is a long procedure that requires meeting strict regulatory approvals, especially if they cross provincial or international borders. Then there are geographic barriers to be overcome, concerns from Aboriginals over land claims, not to mention the inevitable opposition from environmental and ratepayer organizations “It's quite a process,” says Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro spokesperson Dawn Dalley. Their proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador involves transmitting power to markets in Quebec, the Maritimes and the northeastern United States. An application had to be submitted to Hydro-Quebéc’s transmission division, TransÉnergie. “[The application] is still in the process,” says Dalley. She says since Ontario is considering an “intertie” – a connection in the grid – with Labrador, an application has also been filed with that province’s Independent Electricity System Operator.

This is nothing compared to the numerous environmental, planning and impact studies and negotiations with the Innu Nation of Labrador. Dalley says plans will come into place after the environmental assessment is completed, tentatively scheduled for 2009, followed by construction completion by 2015.

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