Nova Scotia is making plans to ensure it can meet its renewable energy targets in 2020 no matter what happens to the $9.2 billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador, says the province’s energy minister.

Nova Scotia has set a goal of obtaining 40 per cent of its electricity from green sources by 2020 — with Muskrat Falls expected to provide slightly less than 10 per cent of the province’s overall needs once it’s online.

But a consultant’s report submitted at a Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board rate hearing warns the renewable target could be threatened if Muskrat Falls is delayed or cancelled.

Energy Minister Michel Samson said Tuesday that his department is looking at contingency plans to cover the difference in the event of major delays, while noting the renewable goal is still four years away.

"There are other options that are being looked at but we still remain committed to being able to achieve those goals in 2020," said Samson.

He said the province is continuing to invest in technologies such as power storage and tidal power in an attempt to increase the amount of renewable energy available.

"We are constantly looking at new technologies, investing with our federal partners and looking at ways that we can have a smaller carbon footprint in our province," he said.

The report by Drazen Consulting Group says the province and Nova Scotia Power should prepare alternate plans should electricity not flow from the project as expected.

"NS Power has plenty of capacity, so it could easily meet customers’ load," the report states.

"The problem would be that it may not meet the Renewable Energy Standard. NSPI and the government should start contemplating their range of responses and NSPI should inform the board and customers of the effects of backup plans."

Drazen’s report is part of the evidence before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, which is examining a request by Nova Scotia Power to raise rates by 4.5 per cent over the next three years to cover fuel costs.

Catherine Abreu, energy coordinator at the Halifax−based Ecology Action Centre, also believes the province should be planning ahead.

Abreu said without Muskrat Falls, meeting the renewable target would be a challenge as would building the transmission system that was meant to accommodate power generated by the project and from other green sources.

She said the time is ideal to approach Ottawa about infrastructure funding for such things as smart grid and power storage technologies.

"We know that the feds are open to investing in those things, so a part of it I think is upping the ante on that conversation between the province and the federal government," she said.

The project, a joint venture between Newfoundland Crown corporation Nalcor and Nova Scotia Power’s parent company Emera (TSX:EMA) will carry power through the island of Newfoundland and on to Nova Scotia through subsea cables and overland transmission lines.

Emera’s portion, the $1.6 billion Maritime Link, will come in on budget and on time in late 2017, company CEO Chris Huskilson said in a conference call on Tuesday.

"As it relates to the timing of the generation ... Nalcor hasn’t been clear about what they believe the timing of the project is at this point," said Huskilson. "I think what we currently know at this point is that it is somewhat late and so we are planning around that."

Power that was expected to flow by 2017 is now delayed until sometime in 2018 with costs currently about 10 per cent over budget from Nalcor’s end.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has said it expects a new schedule and cost estimates for the project by the end of this month.

-The Canadian Press

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