FREDERICTON – Federal support for the $6.2-billion Lower Churchill power project in Labrador is good news for New Brunswick, Energy Minister Craig Leonard said Thursday.

Leonard said the massive hydroelectric development would benefit New Brunswick in several ways, including making it easier for the province to leverage federal support for its top energy project – the ongoing refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.

“Yes, I think that’s a fair comment,” Leonard said when asked if he thought federal backing for Churchill would help get federal money for Lepreau.

“And by taking a collaborative approach, we’ll have the support of our Atlantic partners during those discussions as well, just as they have ours during the Lower Churchill discussions.”

Interim Liberal Leader Victor Boudreau said Thursday he wants to know what Premier David Alward is doing to secure that funding.

“They (the governing Tories) have said they would be seeking full compensation from the federal government,” Boudreau said.

“If the federal government is prepared to make such an announcement for Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, surely our premier should be able to negotiate a deal on Lepreau for New Brunswick.”

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper threw his support behind the Lower Churchill project while campaigning in St. John’s on Thursday, promising to guarantee a loan of up to $4.2 billion for the energy plan, if his Conservative government is re-elected.

The governments of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia have been seeking federal help in financing the project, which they say will transform the East Coast economy and free it from Quebec’s “stranglehold” over the hydroelectric resources in the Labrador hinterland.

Harper said the benefits of developing the Lower Churchill Falls are evident and consistent with what his government had been trying to do across the country to reduce dependence on dirtier fuels.

He said the Tories would also offer similar financing arrangements for other large projects across the country that are economically feasible, nationally or regionally significant in size and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our government has a strong record of supporting clean energy projects in every region of the country,” Harper said in a statement Thursday.

“We will do this in a way that is equitable across every region of Canada.”

Leonard said he believes the Lepreau project fulfils Harper’s criteria for federal assistance.

“Certainly just as Lower Churchill is a project that will affect all provinces, we feel the Lepreau facility also will be of benefit to all provinces as we’ll be able to tap in again to that regional collaboration, the possible sharing of grids and this type of thing,” he said.

“The more sources of clean energy we have, the better it is for everybody.”

Leonard said New Brunswick officials are currently providing the federal Conservatives with projections for the cost of replacement power up to the expected completion of the refurbishment in the fall of 2012.

It’s expected the Lepreau project will be at least $1 billion over budget.

Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said the Atlantic provinces all stand to gain from the Lower Churchill project, which he describes as a “game changer” for the region.

He said politicians should not think of it only in terms of what it will mean for getting money for Lepreau.

“There are benefits from this project for New Brunswick and the more active and engaged New Brunswick becomes, the greater those benefits are,” Cirtwill said.

“The idea that the only benefit from Lower Churchill is you get to leverage a couple of hundred million from the feds is stupid, old, Atlantic Canadian traditional thinking that frankly has done nothing but injure this region for many years.”

Leonard said New Brunswick would benefit from having access to Churchill power both for the province’s own energy use and to make money on its transmission to New England.

“We’re definitely in support of the Lower Churchill project and we know New Brunswick will benefit from it. We have been in discussion with our Atlantic partners – we’ll support them and they’ll support us as we move forward with our energy issues.”

When developed, the Muskrat Falls plant on the Lower Churchill will be the second-largest hydro plant in Atlantic Canada, behind only the 5,500-megawatt facility at Churchill Falls, which sends most of its power to Quebec.

Power from Muskrat Falls will flow from Labrador to St. John’s over a $2-billion transmission cable, which will be owned by Emera Inc. and Nalcor Energy, with Nalcor holding a 71 per cent interest.

Electricity will also flow from Newfoundland to Cape Breton via a subsea transmission cable to be called the Maritime Link. It will be built and fully owned by Emera, which owns Nova Scotia Power.

The link, which will have a capacity of roughly 500 megawatts, will allow Nalcor to ship some of the power from Muskrat Falls (about 40 per cent) into the Maritime and New England markets.

In return, Emera will receive – over 35 years – 20 per cent of the electricity produced at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric facility. The remaining 40 per cent of the electricity will be used domestically within Newfoundland.

Electricity is expected to flow from Muskrat Falls in 2016.

Nalcor is also interested in developing a 2,250-megawatt plant at Gull Island, also in the Lower Churchill in Labrador.

“This is a very important project, not just for Newfoundland and Labrador, for Nova Scotia and the entire region,” Harper said.

“It’s a big chance to shift an entire region of the country towards greener energy and away from large scale greenhouse gas emissions.”