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No increased capacity for power grid

Nova Scotia Power will not be upgrading the electrical grid here in southwestern Nova Scotia anytime soon, if ever.

That is the message Nova Scotia Power’s president Rob Bennett brought to Digby last week for a meeting with representatives from the town and municipality.

Present at the meeting were Digby mayor Ben Cleveland, district councilor Randall Amero, the municipality’s CAO Linda Fraser, the municipality’s renewable energy coordinator Terry Thibodeau and Jeff Sunderland of the Digby harbour port authority.

Bennett asked for the meeting after reading a letter from the municipality’s renewable energy coordinator. Thibodeau had sent the letter to the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board asking about the possibility of upgrades here. From Tremont near Middleton down to Yarmouth, the electrical grid has a 69 kV capacity while the rest of the province has at least 138 kV lines.

“Our grid system in Nova Scotia is antiquated and over time the upgrades have been limited,” wrote Thibodeau. “It has been stated that the traditional North American grid system which we area a part of, was conceived by Edison, designed by Eisenhower and installed by Nixon.”

Thibodeau told the UARB that the state of the electrical grid in this end of the province has already stopped at least one renewable energy project.

Lockheed Martin looked at constructing a biomass-powered combined heat and power plant in the Digby area industrial park to provide heat and power for local buildings like the rink, schools and hospital.

Thibodeau says that project had the potential to stimulate the local economy, reduce heating costs for local government buildings and “put us on the map as leaders in producing our own renewable energy.”

Lockheed Martin decided against the project and one of the reasons they cited was the condition of the transmission and distribution grid.

Digby mayor Ben Cleveland was also present for the meeting with Bennett. Despite the bad news the mayor described the meeting as positive.

“Our infrastructure is the oldest and has the lowest capacity in the province,” says Digby mayor Ben Cleveland. “We wanted to talk to him about upgrades but we also took the opportunity to talk about our tidal potential, our wind projects and hydro electricity.”

Cleveland says the distribution grid in this end of the province is booked to capacity but that does include some projects that aren’t yet producing any power. For example Nova Scotia Power has already reserved space for the Fundy Tidal projects for Digby Gut and Petit Passage.

The mayor says any new manufacturers or projects involving large amounts of electricity will have to be prepared to fund capacity upgrades themselves.

The mayor took it as a positive sign however that Bennett came down here to visit our representatives .

“We’re developing a good relationship with Nova Scotia Power,” says the mayor. “The grid is a challenge but there might be some solutions for that.”

Thibodeau hopes smart grid technology might provide some of the solutions. A smart grid is able to store generated power and release it when needed. Some of the storage possibilities include batteries, compressed air or pumped water storage. For example a windmill could, if the grid was already at capacity, use excess energy to pump water up a hill or a tower, and then release it to turn a turbine when the power is needed as electricity.

Thibodeau says Bennett was open to hearing these suggestions and they even talked to him about perhaps using Digby as an incubation site for testing large-scale tidal turbines. Nova Scotia Power’s first test for the Minas Passage project took place out in the Minas Passage but Thibodeau suggested it may be beneficial to test the new technology closer to shore—somewhere near Digby for example.

“We’ve established a working dialogue with Nova Scotia Power,” says Thibodeau. “Sure we’re disappointed there won’t be any upgrades but there’s no sense beating up on Nova Scotia Power about it. We’ve got to work on the things we can change.”