Belledune closure might not hurt ratepayers as much as previously thought
Ottawa's promised funding to help provinces move away from coal could lessen cost impact, NB Power says
NB Power says it may not have to increase power rates as sharply as it expected if it's forced to close the Belledune Generating Station by 2030.
The utility is suggesting that Ottawa's promise of funding to help provinces move away from burning coal could lessen the financial impact of a Belledune shutdown.
"Our previous comments about rate increases relating to an early coal phase-out were made without consideration of possible co-operation with the federal government," utility spokesperson Deborah Nobes said in an emailed statement.
"We are looking forward to the results of government-to-government talks on how a coal phase-out strategy could be implemented in New Brunswick. In light of this, it would be premature to speculate on any possible rate impacts before these negotiations take place."
Likely end for Belledune
That would likely spell the end for Belledune, the Crown corporation's only remaining coal-burning facility. About 120 people work there.
Earlier this year, utility officials told a committee of MLAs that having to replace Belledune's capacity could translate into a 38-per-cent increase in electricity bills.
But McKenna told reporters Monday the federal government is working with provinces "to ensure that does not increase prices to ratepayers."
Federal climate plan soon
Asked whether Ottawa would help fund a refurbishment of Belledune, McKenna said there are "discussions about different options, certainly."
I want to make it clear that we've always said we want to make sure we protect the economy of the Belledune area.- N.B. Environment Minister Serge Rousselle
She said the federal climate plan to be announced in December will include "investments in particular provinces" through the Low Carbon Economy Fund, the Green Infrastructure Fund and other federal initiatives.
"We look forward to finding opportunities to announce local solutions which will benefit the environment, bring new investments to New Brunswick and create and maintain jobs both in communities economically impacted by accelerated emission reductions and throughout New Brunswick."
McKenna also said the federal rules will allow for "equivalence," a reference to letting provinces keep burning some coal if they can lower emissions elsewhere by the same amount.
Coon wants switch to bio-energy
Provincial Environment Minister Serge Rousselle said he welcomed that statement. "There's flexible answers that can be found," he said, refusing to say whether Belledune would close or stop burning coal.
Green Party Leader David Coon says he's hoping the Gallant government "has negotiated hard and tough and we're going to see some substantial money coming to northern New Brunswick" to convert Belledune to create bio-energy.
Coon says bio-energy is the best option for Belledune, even if it wouldn't replace all of the generating capacity of coal. But he also said it's less expensive than other renewable sources such as solar and wind power.
4 provinces burn coal
He says a Belledune retrofit would also give the province a chance to develop an entire bio-fuel industry in northern New Brunswick.
New Brunswick is one of four provinces that still burns coal to generate electricity. The others are Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.
A recent climate change report by an all-party committee of MLAs recommended the government ban the use of all fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2030. That would include not just coal but also natural gas.
NB Power's last integrated resource plan, released in 2014, says Belledune should be able to operate until 2044, when existing federal regulations would preclude an extension.
Decision needed on Mactaquac
The possible impact on rates would come from NB Power having to build new generation to make up for lost capacity. Some other generating stations are supposed to start closing in 2026, and demand for electricity will exceed NB Power's generating capacity by 2031.
The province must also decide by the end of this year whether to refurbish the Mactaquac hydroelectric dam, an emissions-free way of generating electricity.
"I will not get into that kind of detail right now," Rousselle said.