Which Province Will Gain The Most From Muskrat Falls?

PlanetNL46: Which Province Will Gain The Most From Muskrat Falls?

Emissions Data Show Nova Scotia Has Far More to Gain

PlanetNL45 put a spotlight on three of the province’s worst industrial air pollution emitters.  Each belongs to major Canadian industrial segments notorious for pollution emission: refining, mining, and power generation.  The common thread to the key pollutant issues of the three NL facilities is unrefined oil or Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO).

In this post, we take a quick at neighbouring Nova Scotia.  Pollutant emissions there are overwhelmingly dominated by Emera subsidiary, Nova Scotia Power.  The problem substance is coal which turns out to be considerably dirtier than even HFO.  Well known to regular readers, NSP’s strategy to lower their emissions is to use Muskrat Falls energy imports. 

Readers here also know that NL Hydro’s mission is to replace the HFO burned at the Holyrood Thermal Generating Station with Muskrat power.  This post compares the expected pollutant emission reduction each province will receive from Muskrat.  Will NL, as the province paying for more than 80% of the project, receive 80% of the benefit?

Holyrood vs NSP Pollutant Emissions in 2017

As in the last post, the federal NPRI database provides the key pollutant emissions numbers.

Sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions in Tonnes, in the most recent year available of 2017, shows that more than 97% of total Nova Scotia (NS) industrial air emission is from NSP.  90%, or 60,000 Tonnes, comes from their three coal burning plants listed below. 

Similarly, NSP accounts for nearly all industrial nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions with the same three plants topping the list and accounting for nearly 70% or 12,585 Tonnes. 

From last week’s post, Holyrood was identified as emitting 5642T of SO2 and 3570T of NOx.  Clearly, NSP coal is a far larger pollutant emitter than NL Hydro’s Holyrood plant.  Those levels need to be assessed relative to the amount of power generated though.  

Emera’s 2017 annual report indicates their total energy production from coal was 4839 GWh while Nalcor’s 2017 annual report indicates 1671 GWh production from Holyrood.

Leveling emissions against power generated for the 2017 data, shows that NS coal plants emit 3.5 times higher SO2 per GWh than Holyrood and 1.22 times higher NOx.  While burning HFO at Holyrood results in high emissions, coal is notably worse.

More Recent Emissions Comparison and Potential Muskrat Impact

Both utilities have decreased their share of generation from high emission fuels, however the decrease is far sharper for NL Hydro and Holyrood. 

2017 happened to be the highest usage of the Holyrood plant in many years before and since – it was a one-off.  Demand has fallen off greatly through 2018-2021 with annual energy production of 1073 GWh, 1257 GWh, 989 GWh and 755 GWh respectively.  It appears reasonable and conservative to suggest that the proper level of dependency on Holyrood is approximately 1000 GWh – it may well continue to trend lower.  Improvements in hydro power reliability and the new TL267 transmission line are part of the improvement while milder and wetter winters may even lead to further gains.  The estimated potential for pollutant emissions reduction benefits from using 1000 GWh of Muskrat energy would be 3860 Tonnes of SO2 and 2100 Tonnes of NOx.

NSP has struggled to meaningfully abate coal-fired generation in the last few years.  Reported coal-fired energy output was 4623 GWh in 2021.  NSP is entitled to receive approximately 2500 GWh of Muskrat energy annually, all of which should be expected to go towards abating coal-fired production.  It is straightforward to estimate the reduction in coal emissions to be at least 30,000 Tonnes of SO2 and 6500 Tonnes of NOx.  If additional Muskrat surplus energy is available, NSP is a potential buyer and would presumably achieve additional pollutant emission reduction.

Related to this Post:

PlanetNL45: NL Has a Terrible Per Capita Emissions Problem

Key Beneficiary of Pollutant Emissions from Muskrat: Nova Scotia

Emera and NSP invested 20% (or lower) of the total capital commitment to the overall Lower Churchill Project, including the Maritime Link.  The original term sheet was touted as 20% investment for 20% of the benefit.  A few years on, however, we can see quite clearly that NSP will receive 2.5 times as much energy to replace coal-fired generation as what NL Hydro will take to replace Holyrood.  Emera scored a great win, taking over half the energy from Muskrat Falls for one-fifth of the cost.

In key pollutant emissions terms, the distribution of benefits is even more lopsided.  NSP stands to achieve 3-8 times as much pollutant emission reduction as NL Hydro.

In no uncertain terms, the overall Muskrat Falls project delivers far greater benefits to Nova Scotia than it does to this province.  This province’s ratepayers and taxpayers are directly bearing the majority of costs to be Nova Scotia’s clean energy solution to their dirty coal problem. 

The legendary generosity of NL’ers knows no bounds.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?