While Canada is the planet’s fourth-largest exporter of electrical power, with multiple high-voltage ties to U.S. utilities, it has been slower to connect hydro-producing provinces with neighbours that might benefit from relatively carbon-free electricity. Manitoba is the latest province to want to change that.
“We’ve been focused on transmission north and south, and we haven’t had that dialogue about east-west,” Manitoba Energy Minister Cliff Cullen told a regional meeting of the industry non-profit Energy Council of Canada on Tuesday.
Manitoba has hydro to sell, and Cullen’s Saskatchewan counterpart Dustin Duncan indicated his province might be interested in buying some. But he cautioned that tying different provinces’ traditionally independent grids together was not as simple as flicking a switch.
“They’re big projects. They’re multibillion-dollar projects,” Duncan said. “Even trying to do the interconnects to the transmission grid, I don’t think they’re as easy or as low-cost as we would imagine, just hooking up some power lines across the [interprovincial] border. It takes much more work than that.”
The federal government’s first budget in 2016 forecast that Canada’s aging electrical infrastructure would need significant new investment, but gave Natural Resources Canada only $2.5 million over two years to open regional talks on the subject.
A national power grid, parallel to other strategic east-west Canadian ties like the historic railroad, is an idea that has surfaced repeatedly—usually when provinces like Manitoba have something to sell. B.C. Premier Christy Clark has offered hydro power from a heavily-criticized dam being built on the Peace River to reduce the carbon footprint of Alberta’s tar sands/oil sands. Ontario and Quebec initialled a 14-terawatt-hour (TWh), seven-year cross-border purchase agreement late last year. And the logic of an integrated national grid to distribute clean renewable power from oversupplied, often thinly-populated regions to urban areas with high demand is hard to dispute.
Canada’s premiers supported development of a national power grid at their annual meeting 10 years ago, but did not make it a priority. But now, with a variety of renewable resources in development from coast to coast to coast, and much more on the horizon, the timing today may be better to advance the infrastructure to tie it all together.