NB Power’s Belledune generator station will not be allowed to burn coal after 2030, says a spokesman for Federal Environment and Climate Steven Guilbeault.
Ottawa will not sign the so-called “equivalence agreement” that the Higgs government has hoped to strike to let the plant run on coal for an extra decade, the spokesman said.
“I can confirm that the Government of Canada is committed to phasing out coal-fired power by 2030 across the country, including in New Brunswick,” Joanna Sivasankaran said in an email to CBC News.
“The Minister will not sign an equivalence agreement that extends beyond 2030.”
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The decision effectively gives the province and NB Power only eight years to come up with an alternative fuel source or close the factory on New Brunswick’s north coast. More than 100 people work there.
Belledune emitted more than 2.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in 2019, making it the second largest emitter in the province after the Irving Oil refinery. In 2018, Belledune’s emissions were higher than those of the refinery.
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick welcomed the decision.
“Extreme weather from climate change is affecting us all,” said Louise Comeau, the organization’s director of climate change and energy solutions.
“We need to phase out the use of fossil fuels, which generate heat-absorbing gases when burned, to keep people and communities safe.”
She urged the province and NB Power to help workers at the factory either retire or retrain for new jobs in renewable energy.
NB Power said in a statement that it would “continue to explore options and discuss the future of Belledune” with the government.
And New Brunswick’s Environment and Climate Secretary Gary Crossman said in a statement that the decision was not a surprise.
“Recent comments from the federal government at COP 26 lead us to believe that the equivalence and continued operation of Belledune after 2030 would be a challenge. The federal government today reaffirmed its intentions to phase out coal by 2030.”
New Brunswick Environment and Climate Minister Gary Crossman did not speak to reporters at the Legislative Assembly Thursday morning.
On Tuesday, Crossman said Belledune briefly came up during his first virtual meeting with Guilbeault on November 19th.
“We asked for flexibility and we look forward to the next meeting, hopefully in the near future,” Crossman said. “New Brunswick is a small province and we are doing the best we can to move forward.”
Youngest power plant
The province’s youngest power plant, Belledune, began operations in 1993, and its design allows it to continue until 2040.
But according to the federal government’s climate plan, coal-fired electricity production must be phased out a decade before that, by 2030.
New Brunswick has pushed for an “equivalence agreement” to allow the plant to reduce its annual production and run until 2040 by spreading the same amount of emissions over an extended period of time.
NB Power says that it would make it possible to avoid the cost of building a new natural gas plant to compensate for lost electricity production.
In July, then-Federal Environment and Climate Secretary Jonathan Wilkinson told CBC News he was open to the idea.
“I certainly understand the perspective of the province of New Brunswick.”
But at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this month, Guilbeault, who replaced Wilkinson after the September election, reiterated Ottawa’s plan for a full coal phase by 2030.
Liberal MLAs representing the Belledune area said they supported Guilbeault’s decision but want the province to step in quickly to find another source of fuel for the plant.
“We agree [decision], “said Daniel Guitard, whose Restigouche-Chaleur riding includes the plant.” That is not the question. We have to replace the coal with another product. ”
He said that if NB Power was willing to buy the Bayside natural gas plant in Saint John in 2019 and renovate it, the utility would have to be willing to do the same for Belledune.
“We have a government that does not want to invest in the North at all,” Guitard said.
While pursuing the equivalence agreement, NB Power and the province have also looked at other options for Belledune, including the use of untested hydrogen power technology from a Florida startup. That idea went nowhere.
Another plan would have seen an ironworks plant built near the power plant, where its gas by-product became a new source of fuel.
But the project would have increased the total greenhouse gas emissions in the province, and NB Power eventually decided that it was too expensive.
Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development Mike Holland said the cost of a natural gas plant to replace Belledune could be too high as it would also emit greenhouse gases, which the province aims to reduce.
“We are talking nine-digit. This is billions of dollars in infrastructure investment, for what could be argued is a transitional solution to the problem.”
The Netherlands said small modular nuclear reactors could replace the electricity production lost at Belledune. The province is supporting two companies researching the technology, which the minister says may be ready in time for 2030.
He said there is no “magic bullet” to replace coal and the province is looking at several options, including some pilot projects with solar energy.
He also said that improving technology that allows battery storage of renewable energy can also play a role.
“We need to have the light on in the province of New Brunswick,” he said.
In its statement, NB Power said that 80 percent of its electricity production is emission-free and it hopes to solve the rest “in a way that is economical for our taxpayers.”
Crossman’s statement said securing new energy sources “will require financial support from the federal government to ensure that New Brunswickers have access to clean energy and are not burdened with significantly higher energy prices.”