The Helios Centre is a non-profit research group, providing independent expertise in a broad range of energy issues.

Through its research work and the dissemination of its many publications, the Helios Centre aims to foster and build the knowledge base required to achieve a sustainable energy future.


Recent projects

British Columbia — Need for and Alternatives to the Site C Hydroelectric Project

In April 2017, Philip Raphals, together with Rick Hendriks and Prof. Karen Bakker of UBC's Program on Water Governance, reassessed the need for the Site C Hydroelectric Project, a mega-dam and power station on the Peace River in northern British Columbia that is currently under construction. The completed project will generate 1100 MW of power and 5.1 terawatt hours per year of energy.

The report, which included detailed modelling of 30 scenarios, found that, taking sunk costs and estimates of cancellation costs into account, cancelling the Site C Project as of June 30, 2017 would save ratepayers between $500 million and $1.65 billion, depending on future conditions. It also found that suspending the project, keeping open the possibility of resuming constructions should conditions so warrant, could stabilize those costs at around $800 million.

The Centre's work on the Site C Project began four years earlier, in early 2013, when Mr. Raphals provided expert testimony to the Federal-Provincial Joint Review Panel, on behalf of the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, representing First Nations in BC that would be directly affected by the project.

Mr Raphals' model showed that the Site C Project was not the most cost-effective way of meeting future power needs, because BC Hydro had failed to examine important alternatives, especially that of capacity-focused DSM. An abridged version of Mr. Raphals' initial testimony can be found here, and his response to BC Hydro's Rebuttal Evidence is here.

Modernization of the Canadian National Energy Board

In 2017 the Helios Centre contributed to the consultation on the modernization of Canada's National Energy Board, presenting a report, "The NEB's Role in Electricity Regulation and Energy Information", on behalf of the Front commun pur la transition énergétique. The report of the Expert Panel is expected later in 2017.

Low-carbon electricity future

At the invitation of the organizers of the Canada-wide publication, Acting on Climate Change: Solutions from Canadian Scholars, the Helios Centre contributed an article entitled "Towards a Sustainable Low-Carbon Electric System: Challenges and Opportunities", to the follow-up book, Acting on Climate Change: Extending the Dialogue Among Canadians. The publication can be found here.

Lower Churchill Project — Newfoundland and Labrador

Since 2010, the Helios Centre has been involved in several proceedings involving different aspects of the Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Project, which consists of a dam and power plant — currently under construction — at Muskrat Falls.

Philip Raphals appeared as an expert witness before the Joint Review Panel examining the Lower Churchill Project, at the invitation of Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, a citizens' group in Labrador. Mr. Raphals' testimony pointed out the many unanswered questions regarding the project's economic justification. The Panel ultimately agreed that the project's justification in energy and economic terms had not been demonstrated.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador had meanwhile asked the Public Utilities Board to review the project's justification, but with a limited mandate that did not include examining all the alternatives. Mr. Raphals again provided testimony on behalf of Grand Riverkeeper. His testimony focused on the issues concerning long-term planning of the Newfoundland power system, including wind potential, anticipated conservation savings, the treatment of risk and uncertainty in using fuel price forecasts, and the unknowns related to the yet-to-be-negotiated power purchase agreement for Muskrat Falls electricity.

Currently, the Newfoundland and Labrador PUB is holding a hearing regarding reliability and supply issues on the Island Interconnected System, launched in response to the major blackouts experienced during the winter of 2014–2015. Acting as expert witness for Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, Mr. Raphals showed that, without a water-management agreement with Hydro-Québec, the Muskrat Falls power station would not be able to produce at its planned capacity. (The PUB subsequently ruled that this evidence fell outside the scope of its hearing). The issue remains of great concern in Newfoundland.

In a separate environmental assessment proceeding, Mr. Raphals also provided expert testimony concerning the justification of the Labrador Island Transmission Link (LITL), the underwater transmission line that is to bring power from Muskrat Falls to Newfoundland.

Natural Resources Defence Council — USA

In 2010 the Helios Centre prepared a report on behalf of the NRDC concerning the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a proposed transmission corridor from Québec to New York City.

Latin American Energy Organization (OLADE)

In 2005, together with Peter Bradford, Philip Raphals co-authored "An Analysis of the Relevance of North American Experiences to the Latin American and Caribbean Region." The project included an in-depth review of the impact on restructuring on electricity and natural gas consumers in the U.S. and Canada, with an emphasis on the development of policy guidelines for regulating energy markets in the public interest in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Québec energy policy

In the hearing on the Hydro-Québec Distribution's 2018–2027 Supply Plan, Mr. Raphals has presented evidence demonstrating the need for greater regulatory surveillance of HQD's short-term purchases from neighbouring markets (imports). These purchases have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, and Hydro-Québec has acknowledged that it does not carry out any retrospective analysis of its strategy's performance.

Philip Raphals has appeared on many occasions as an expert witness before Québec's Energy Board. Clients have included the RNCREQ, l'Union de consommateurs, the Fédération des commissions scolaires du Québec and other groups, in hearings concerning:

  • the framework agreement between HQ-Production and HQ-Distribution,
  • the balancing contract for wind energy,
  • Hydro-Québec's security of supply,
  • Hydro-Québec's energy efficiency plan and avoided costs,
  • Hydro-Québec's transmission tariffs;
  • sustainable development criteria; and
  • acquisition of power from small hydro developers.

Mr. Raphals' testimony demonstrates that there is a direct link between excess short-term purchases and the increasing quantities of low-cost "patrimonial" energy that go unused each year. He proposes a quantitative indicator of the amounts lost each year when excessive short-term purchases displace patrimonial energy.

His review of formerly confidential Hydro-Québec documents demonstrated that, with surprising frequency, HQD has made short-term purchases from HQ Production in the absence of bids from other suppliers. These sales are generally priced in relation to the prices found in neighbouring US markets. On some occasions prices have gone as high as 40¢/kWh, creating windfall profits for HQP (and corresponding costs for HQD). He recommends that the pricing of such short-term sales between divisions of Hydro-Québec should be based on the traditional "split-the-savings" approach.

In 2013 Mr. Raphals presented a brief on behalf of the Helios Centre to the Commission sur les enjeux énergétiques du Québec, a provincial commission established to make recommendations for Québec's energy future. The Commission, in its report, adopted several aspects of the Helios Centre analysis with respect to electricity exports. The Commission also invited Mr. Raphals to participate in an expert roundtable on electricity exports.

Nova Scotia's electricity imports from Newfoundland

In 2013-2014, the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board assessed a proposed contract for Nova Scotia Power to purchase electricity imported from Muskrat Falls. The Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) asked Mr. Raphals to provide expert testimony on their behalf in this proceeding. In his expert testimony, he demonstrated that the perceived economic benefits were based on blending high-priced contractual energy with low-priced surplus energy, for which no commitment had been made. Without large quantities of surplus energy, the cost of imports would be greater than the alternatives. The Board agreed with this analysis and approved the project conditional upon the conclusion of a contract guaranteeing Nova Scotia access to market-priced energy.

Innu Nation — Rate Case for Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro

In 2014, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro (NLH) filed a rate application that would have increased electric rates at the Innu reserve of Sheshiatsiu by 26%. The Helios Centre was asked by the Innu Nation (Labrador) to assist it before the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Utilities Board.

In his expert testimony, Philip Raphals showed that this increase was primarily due to the application of a poorly understood formula for the subsidization of service to off-grid (diesel) communities. Under the NLH plan, grid-connected rates in Labrador would increase by 26%, whereas grid-connected residential rates in Newfoundland would decrease by 3.2%.

Shortly after evidence was filed, NLH withdrew its rate application, and an amended application was filed later in the year. The new tariffs lowered the rate increase for connected customers in Labrador from 26% to 1.9%, while for grid-connected residents of Newfoundland the rates rose by 2.8%.

Wind Industry

In 2005, for CanWEA, the Helios Centre co-authored a submission on wind power to the Ontario Power Authority's Supply Mix Consultation.

In 2012, the Helios Centre completed a study of the rate impacts in Quebec caused by existing and planned wind farms. The study demonstrated that these rate impacts are real, but are far less than is widely believed.

In 2015 Mr. Raphals was a finalist for the prestigious R.J. Templin Prize, awarded by the Canadian Wind Energy Association for research that has advanced wind energy in Canada.

Low Impact Hydropower Institute

The Helios Centre has been actively involved with the Low Impact Hydropower Institute almost since its inception in 2001. Philip Raphals has been chair of LIHI's Renewable Energy Markets Advisory Committee since 2014.

In 2004, the Helios Centre produced a study entitled Seeding Green Power which took a fresh look at the characteristics that define a low-impact hydropower installation. In 2014, with the active participation of the Helios Centre, LIHI made a major revision to its certification criteria.

Renewable alternatives to diesel generation

The Helios Centre has carried out two studies for Hydro-Québec concerning renewable alternatives to diesel generation for off-grid communities. In 2006, we examined renewable energy options for Québec's off-grid communities.

In 2008, a similar study was carried out for the diesel-supplied mini-grid in Jacmel, Haiti. Not surprisingly, we found that there were far more viable options in the tropics, where sunshine and biomass are abundant, than in the North. See also Part 2 of the study.

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