Tag Archives: NB Power

Subatomic ambitions


NB Power’s thoughtful CEO, Gaetan Thomas, is probably right to downplay the possibility of building a second nuclear power plant in New Brunswick. At the moment, such a massive project doesn’t make much economic sense.

As he told the Telegraph-Journal in an interview the other day, “I’ve had some discussions with the province. I know that our premier is favorable to the idea, but at this stage, there is no business case yet.”

Still, if the Gallant government wants to resuscitate the province’s ambitions to become a Canadian energy hub, other options are available and are becoming increasing practical and attractive.

Some months ago, Clean Energy Canada found that spending on the clean technology sector in amounted to $10 billion in 2015. That was the second-best performance on record. Said the group’s executive director, Merran Smith, in the report: “We’re living in a new era of political resolve to tackle climate change. . .Spending on clean energy will likely grow again in the years ahead.”

Intriguingly, Clean Energy noted, spending on the sector in Atlantic Canada last year jumped by 58 per cent to just about $1.2 billion. Given the region’s relatively small population, that result compared favourably to Ontario’s $5.3-billion investment in renewable energy in 2015.

Now, rip a page from a recent report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It found that the sector “employed 7.7 million people, directly or indirectly, around the world in 2014 (excluding large hydropower). This is an 18 per cent increase from the number reported the previous year. In addition, IRENA conducted the first-ever global estimate of large hydropower employment, showing approximately 1.5 million direct jobs in the sector.”

Moreover, “The 10 countries with the largest renewable energy employment were China, Brazil, the United States, India, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, France, Bangladesh and Colombia. . .The solar PV industry is the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.5 million jobs, followed by liquid biofuels with 1.8 million jobs, and wind power, which surpassed 1 million jobs for the first time. The employment increase extends across the renewable energy spectrum with solar, wind, biofuels, biomass, biogas and small hydropower all seeing increases in employment.”

What this should tell us is that there is a good life beyond fossil fuel without complicated benefits of nuclear energy. Of course, none of it will be easy. As the IRENA report notes, “In the coming years, renewable energy employment growth will depend on the return to a strong investment trajectory, as well as on continued technological development and cost reductions. Stable and predictable policies will be essential to support job creation. Finally, in a year when negotiators aim to carve out a global climate agreement, the broader policy framework for energy investments will also move to the forefront.”

Then there is the Donald Trump factor. He’s on record as a climate-change sceptic and his determination to speed up the clock on coal-fired power plants could present a competitive disadvantage to Canadian sources of renewable energy, especially in export markets. Sustainability costs money; and the return on investment is more often a long-term proposition for governments.

On the other hand, back in 2015, the CBC reported that NB Power would encourage small-scale green energy. At that time, Keith Cronkhite, NB Power’s vice-president of business development and generation said, “The beauty of community energy projects is that they would enter into a power purchase arrangement with NB Power. The revenues that we would pay toward those projects stays within New Brunswick and that’s an important part of any renewable program.”

Hope, it seems, does spring eternal.

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Taking off the gloves four years later


Say what you will about Shawn Graham. But the man doesn’t back down from a fight, even when he’s almost certain to lose.

The former Liberal premier of New Brunswick was back in the news last week, and in a contemplative mood, sitting down for an interview with The Daily Gleaner’s Michael Staples.

Reflecting on the signature debacle of his one term in office – the failed bid to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec for a cool $4 billion in 2010 – he said: “That was one of my biggest regrets as premier that we weren’t able to get that deal done for the benefit of future generations.”

Does he still think it was the right thing to attempt, even though a goodly number of his fellow citizens did at one point want to roast him on a spit?

“We would not have tried as hard as we did and spent the political capital if we didn’t think it was the right direction for the province to move and the utility to move,” he said.

Does he blame the public for failing to appreciate the obvious benefits of such a move?

“You never want to to shock the public and, unfortunately, we didn’t have the benefit of time to educate the public on the significant challenges facing the utility,” he said. “People say it may have been the best possible deal but the communications was terrible. I recognized that, but there were challenges on how we could inform the public.”

In retrospect, though, I wonder if that’s strictly accurate.

Since Mr. Graham’s time away from public life, the province has welcomed into –and booted out of – office the Progressive Conservative government of David Alward, another one-term wonder.

The Tory regime was, for all appearances, dramatically different that its predecessor Grits in the way it handled the public.

Where the Graham government was perceived to be guarded, uncommunicative and even secretive, the Alward team was deliberately consultative, inclusive and even  chatty. And yet both suffered nearly identical fates at the hands of unmoved and unconvinced electorates.

Indeed, if we were to put Messrs. Alward and Graham in a room together, with no fear of being quoted before the great unwashed, and ask each of them to be completely honest, what are the chances that these two gentlemen might actually agree?

The single, biggest problem New Brunswick faces, they might say, is not the condition of its power company (which is actually pretty good these days).

It’s not the looming cost of rebuilding (or retiring) the Mactaquac dam.

It’s not public pensions overuns, illiteracy, innumeracy, childhood obesity, crime, mental illness,drug addiction, poverty, income inequality, or permanent, structural unemployment.

It’s not the $300-500-million annual deficit, nor is it the $12-billion long-term debt.

No, the biggest problem New Brunswick faces, the former premiers might concur in a moment of fearless candor, is that the province is rapidly becoming ungovernable.

Doing the unpopular thing (like attempting to sell the power company under cover of darkness) doesn’t seem to make any greater difference to the public’s generally low opinion of politicians and their games than doing the generally appealing thing (like refusing to raise the HST by a measly percentage point) – even though both moves, under the proper circumstances, could make eminent, good sense.

Frankly, far too many of us in this province find it impossible to conceive of a day when the economic engines and commercial levers freeze for good. It;s never happened before, We’ve always managed to pull through, demanding and pretty much getting everything we’ve asked our politicians to deliver.

And on those occasions when we don’t get what we want, we through the bums on the street, a move, if repeated often enough, tends to produce a political class schooled in the twin arts of supplication and pandering.

Neither, I hasten to add, are Messrs. Graham’s and Alward’s particular failures as politicians.

Still, it would useful to our long-term prospects if we could learn how to keep our leaders around long enough that they might do the right thing in the right way for change – even if the right thing isn’t immediately or especially popular.

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How to make poor-weather friends in eastern Canada



The temptation to assign blame for Mother Nature’s tempests is, at times, overwhelming – especially when you’ve been without power for a week. 

According to New Brunswick’s electrical utility, on Friday as many as 18,000 people in this province were still in the dark, both literally and figuratively, after post-tropical storm Arthur slammed into the Maritimes on July 5. 

A rising chorus of those affected are asking tough questions. 

Why is it taking so long to restore service to everyone? Why are some homes reconnected while their neighbours across the street remain blacked out? Have our famously verdant urban streets become states of emergency just waiting to happen?

Naturally, a matching deluge of politics falls steadily on the capitol these days. 

The provincial Liberals have criticized the Tory government’s weather preparedness, suggesting that NB Power was, once again, caught with its pants down around it ankles. “It’s a total embarrassment,” charged Rick Doucet, Grit MLA from Charlotte-The Isles, last week. “How many events do we have to go through before we’re going to learn? . .This is the third major weather event to hit New Brunswick in the past seven months. We should be getting better at this, but it appears that’s not the case, unfortunately.”

The critique prompted an immediate and sharp rebuke from provincial Energy Minister Craig Leonard, who barked: “For them (Liberal opposition members) to come out and criticize the preparation work done by this utility, in the middle of the restoration work, is just the lowest of the low. . .It just highlights their ignorance.”

But, in at least one respect, we are all ignorant. To what extent should we, on the East Coast, expect increasing and increasingly severe weather? And how should those calculations inform the decisions we make about preparedness?

Clearly, what we currently have in place in this province and in Nova Scotia (where hundreds also remain without power) are insufficient to withstand the new normals climate change metes out. 

For, make no mistake, this is what we are beginning to experience. 

Last winter’s brutally long winter on this continent was, most experts think, the ironic result of a steadily warming planet. Higher temperatures in the polar region played havoc with the traditional gradients in air pressure which, in turn, sent the jet stream literally all over the map.

This produced wild swings between iron cold and almost balmy conditions sometimes within a matter of mere hours. The result: Ice, rain and snow storms within single 24-hour periods with the predictable effects of downed power lines, blankets and games of Old Maid by candlelight.

That was last December in New Brunswick. It’s harder to blame climate change for this month’s storm. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States predicts a near-normal Hurricane season for the Atlantic coast.

Even so, it takes only one of these violent tumults to exacerbate, through storm surges, another demonstrable effect of global warming: rising sea levels. According to NOAA: “There is strong evidence that global sea level is now rising at an increased rate and will continue to rise during this century. While studies show that sea levels changed little from AD 0 until 1900, sea levels began to climb in the 20th century. The two major causes of global sea-level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans (since water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice (such as glaciers and polar ice caps) due to increased melting.

“Records and research show that sea level has been steadily rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900. This rate may be increasing. Since 1992, new methods of satellite altimetry (the measurement of elevation or altitude) indicate a rate of rise of 0.12 inches per year. This is a significantly larger rate than the sea-level rise averaged over the last several thousand years.”

For New Brunswick and every coastal area of Canada, these are real nuts and bolts, dollar and cents, issues. Every time a tempest storms into our environs, we can measure the economic costs in the millions and tens-of-millions of dollars – costs that will, in time, only escalate.

It’s now time, if it wasn’t before, for closer regional cooperation on protecting and managing our respective power grids.

After all, Mother Nature doesn’t observe provincial borders. Why should we?


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