The Muskrat Falls - Maritime Link Project

Map of the Maritime Link showing the subsea cable connection between Cape Breton, NS and Bottom Brook, NL and the overland connections between Newfoundland and Muskrat Falls in Labrador.The Muskrat Falls-Maritime Link Hydro-electric Project – also referred to as the Lower Churchill Project – is damming the Lower Churchill River in Labrador and building a generating plant at Muskrat Falls.

As well, thousands of kilometres of subsea cable and overhead transmission lines (The Labrador-Island Link and the Maritime Link) with a number of transmission stations will be installed to deliver electricity from Labrador to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and beyond.

The Project is being led by Nalcor, a Newfoundland and Labrador crown corporation responsible for most power generation in that province, and Emera, a public corporation that owns Nova Scotia Power, which is responsible for 95% of energy generation, transmission, and distribution in that province.  

The Benefits

Construction site near Muskrat Falls is full of busy workers, equipment, and new structure frames.Construction site near Muskrat Falls. Photo Credit: The Telegram News

Governments, business and economic leaders, and developers in the region are enthusiastic about the potential of the Muskrat Falls-Maritime Link Project for a number of reasons.

  • Reduced reliance on fossil fuels - We know we need cleaner alternatives to burning oil, gas, and coal. Both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia rely on fossil fuels and a new source of hydro-electric energy would help to reduce this dependence as well as green-house gas emissions. 
  • Economic independence and growth –The hydro-electric project will provide a locally-controlled and a sustainable source of energy for the Atlantic provinces, which could make the region more competitive in world markets.
  • Employment – The development of the hydro-electric project will also create many new jobs in the trades and other sectors – a welcome change in a region with some of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in Canada.

The Costs

Logs are piled up and bark litters the ground at the site of a clear-cut beside Muskrat Falls.Clearcutting near Muskrat Falls to make way for new power lines.

As much as we want and need clean, renewable energy, we cannot ignore the impact the development is having on the land, the communities, and the people of Labrador.

  • Environmental damage – Damming the Lower Churchill River will destroy thousands of hectares of land, threaten animal and fish populations, and poison the environment for decades.
  • Human health risks – Environmental degradation will affect everyone, but women and children will be at greater risk of negative health outcomes because of the way that women’s bodies metabolize environmental contaminants. Toxins are also passed from mothers to babies, both before birth and through breast-feeding.
  • Social impact – Experience shows that communities experiencing resource development face many challenges.  Often governments and developers invest little or no money in infrastructure – housing, hospitals, recreation and day-care centres as well as social and economic services.  As a result, when workers flood into communities: food prices sky-rocket; housing becomes unavailable or unaffordable; rates of violence, addictions, racism, and sex work increase. Homelessness in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was uncommon in the past, but now it is reaching alarming proportions.
  • Economic impact – While the hydro-electric development will increase the number of jobs in the region, there is no guarantee that local residents will benefit from job creation.  Skilled workers are likely to move to the community, at least temporarily, to take up jobs and the women of Labrador, like women elsewhere, are vastly under-represented in the trades that will benefit from these jobs. Already we can see that some residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay are doing well from the development while others are not.
  • Increased power rates – Most Nova Scotians will be spared the negative effects of the hydro-electric development because current plans for construction are confined to a single transmission station at Point Aconi. But many in both provinces will be adversely affected by increased power rates, and women are particularly at risk because they are more likely than men to be living in poverty and therefore less able to manage increased energy costs.

Additional Resources

Happy Valley - Goose Bay Restructuring Watch - Documents media coverage of economic restructuring occurring in Happy Valley - Goose Bay, including Muskrat Falls project developments and impacts.

Report of the Joint Review Panel: Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation Project (2011) - Outlines the anticipated environmental impacts of the Muskrat Falls development project including loss of wildlife habitat and mercury contamination of traditional food sources.