Environmentalists want Ottawa to nix proposal to burn coal at Belledune until 2040
Province wants to extend burning coal at power plant for additional 10 years
Environmentalists are trying to head off federal approval of a New Brunswick plan to keep burning coal at the Belledune generating station until 2040, 10 years later than what the existing national climate plan allows.
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick is urging federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to reject the idea.
Wilkinson told CBC News it's too early for him to make a decision but he suggested he's open to the idea.
"I'm not in a position yet to make a determination one way or another but it's certainly something that's under discussion," he said. "I certainly understand the perspective of the province of New Brunswick."
The deadline to phase out the use of coal to produce electricity is 2030. Belledune is New Brunswick's last coal-fired generating plant.
But the province and NB Power are asking Ottawa for special permission to keep the plant running beyond that date by reducing its annual output earlier.
They argue it will spread the same volume of emissions over a longer period and avoid the cost of building a new natural gas fired generating plant to make up for lost generation.
That would let Belledune operate to 2040, the end of its design life, while delivering "equal or better" emissions reductions than the federal regulations, the province says.
The government recently posted draft regulations to cap greenhouse gas emissions from electrical generation, rules that are the basis for the negotiations about Belledune.
Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland said in a statement last month that a so-called equivalency agreement would allow for "a managed transition" from coal to emissions-free electricity.
"This is not about committing to burning coal until 2040," he said. "This gives us another option we can use to further reduce New Brunswick's carbon footprint."
The Conservation Council's Louise Comeau said the provincial proposal lacks detailed information showing that the volume of emissions would truly be equivalent if spread out to 2040.
"I don't have that. I can't look at that. I can't add up the numbers and say 'the cap that's proposed is truly equivalent.' So we're asking for transparency,"
Comeau co-signed a letter to Wilkinson this week urging him to reject the idea altogether.
"This idea that we can actually keep burning fossil fuel is one that we actually just have to come to grips with and understand the reality of: no we can't," she said. "A tonne is a tonne is a tonne."
But if Wilkinson does say yes, Comeau wants him to force the province to prove that running Belledune at peak winter times only will not lead to even more emissions.
"That's nowhere in the regulation," she said. "We have no public details on how the plan would actually work."
Other provinces, including Nova Scotia, have signed so-called equivalency agreements with Ottawa, but Comeau argues they should not be seen as precedents for New Brunswick because the need for emissions reductions is now more urgent than when they were signed.