Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy told reporters Tuesday the government is looking at options to power isolated communities up and down the Labrador Coast.
The massive Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development has dominated discussion of energy policy in the province for more than two years, but it won’t be part of the solution for isolated communities in Labrador that currently rely on diesel power for electricity.
But that doesn’t mean the government isn’t thinking about it at all, Kennedy said.
“It’ll all come down to the economic feasibility of the project, and certainly, if it can be done cheaper than what we’re paying for the cost of diesel right now, we’ll certainly do it,” he told reporters outside the House of Assembly Tuesday. “As a government we’re certainly committed to providing cheap power to all residents of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, but especially we recognize the difficulties in using diesel power in the coastal communities of Labrador, and if we can rid ourselves of that, we certainly will.”
The issue came up during question period Tuesday in the House of Assembly when Liberal House leader Yvonne Jones wanted to know what the government is doing to reduce the reliance on polluting, fossil-fuel power on the Labrador coast.
“While government is touting the main benefit of Muskrat Falls as the ability to shut down Holyrood, we have 21 communities along the Labrador Coast on diesel generation paying some of the highest rates commercially anywhere in the province,” Jones said in the House.
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The provincial government heavily subsidizes the diesel power on the Labrador coast, paying out about $40 million each year to keep the electricity rates affordable in the small, isolated communities.
The issue is that while Muskrat Falls will create a glut of electricity, the cost of running transmission lines through Labrador to the communities currently relying on diesel is just not worth it, Kennedy said.
But Kennedy said the government is looking at a couple of promising rivers in southern Labrador.
He said the government is expecting a report on that option to be completed within weeks.
On top of that, if the Voisey’s Bay nickel mine starts doing underground mining, it will need a lot more power.
That could allow the nearby communities of Nain and Natuashish to plug into the same power supply the mine uses.
But again, the power probably won’t come from Muskrat Falls, Kennedy told reporters, because it’s not cheap to run transmission lines all that way.
“We mightn’t necessarily need a line from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Voisey’s Bay. We’re not quite certain of the power that would be needed for Voisey’s Bay underground mining if they go that way, but it’s safe to assume it’s around 40 to 50 megawatts of power,” Kennedy said. “We’d look at whether or not we could develop rivers up that way.”