A keen observer of the regional energy scene says if New Brunswick and Nova Scotia announce improvements to interprovincial power transmission infrastructure today, it would be a boon to planned and proposed renewable projects.

Charles Cirtwill, president and CEO of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, says he suspects Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Nova Scotia Power Inc. president and CEO Chris Huskilson will be in Fredericton today to join New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and NB Power representatives in revealing plans to boost transmission between the two Maritime provinces.

An afternoon announcement in Fredericton about energy is planned, but New Brunswick Energy Minister Jack Keir has only revealed the news will be about regional energy co-operation to do with electricity; other parties involved declined to comment.

“I think we’re going to hear them talk again about increasing the transmission capacity between the two provinces because they’ve talked about that for years,” Cirtwill said in an interview Monday.

The head of the Halifax-based think-tank said another $200-million 345-kilovolt power transmission line between the Bluenose province and New Brunswick, which Nova Scotia Power revealed recently it is considering, would allow more clean power to flow on the grid.

“I think Lower Churchill will at least be mentioned,” he said, referring to the massive proposed hydroelectric project Newfoundland and Labrador wants to develop to wheel clean, renewable power throughout the region and into New England markets.

“If you invest in transmission infrastructure, it makes all of these small five-, 10-megawatt projects – a little wind farm here, a little dam there – much more viable because they have a low-cost way to get their electricity to market,” Cirtwill said.

Hydro-Québec also has another 6,000 megawatts of power planned for the coming years that could be pushed into Atlantic Canada.

The New Brunswick System Operator, in a report this month on a 10-year outlook for generation and transmission, says there is a need for new transmission infrastructure across the province, particularly in the Moncton area near the Nova Scotia border.

NBSO president and CEO Sylvain Gignac confirmed in an interview his organization has been supplying Nova Scotia Power with information but has not received a formal request to study a new transmission line between the two provinces.

“Obviously as you can see from the 10-year outlook, there are some reliability issues in that area close to Moncton and it can be alleviated with increasing the capacity at the inter-tie with Nova Scotia Power,” Gignac said.

The big question will be who pays for transmission infrastructure that both governments and utilities have long agreed needs to be built.

Proponents of energy projects currently submit requests for new power lines to be constructed to system operators, if those on the system are fully booked up.

System operators decide whether new lines are needed simply for the benefit of the proponent – in which case investors would pick up the tab – or for the reliability of the system, which would see taxpayers foot the bill.

But last year, Fort Reliance Co. Ltd., the parent company of Irving Oil Ltd., created Portage Energy Ltd. to look at how to form a truly regional transmission grid with investments from the public and private sector.

Cirtwill suggests a public-private partnership for transmission makes sense: the federal government could pay some of it, the provinces could pay part of it to be recovered through electricity bills and private investors can throw in money to be paid back by reselling a portion of the electricity in the U.S. marketplace.

In December 2008, the Atlantic Canadian premiers met in Summerside, P.E.I., to discuss the need for increased and accelerated infrastructure funding and announced they were encouraging Ottawa to make a major investment in electricity transmission infrastructure in Atlantic Canada.

They said this would both stimulate the economy and create a green energy transmission corridor through the provinces to provide a “critical eastern anchor” to Canada’s energy profile.