New Brunswick

NB Power facing tough choices from climate change report

Key recommendations on climate change options could mean some drastic decisions for NB Power, with two of its plants facing shutdown.

Utility may have to shut down Belledune, Coleson Cove early

NB Power's oil-fired generator at Coleson Cove would have to stop current production methods by 2030 if recommendations from the climate change committee were adopted.

NB Power could be facing some tough choices down the road if the Gallant government adopts a key recommendation from an all-party committee of MLAs studying climate change.

The committee's report, released on Monday, says the province should end all electricity generation from fossil fuels by 2030 to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

That puts the future of two NB Power generating stations, Coleson Cove and Belledune, in doubt.

Plants supposed to run longer

The Crown corporation had been assuming that both plants would continue to run well past 2030, according to its last integrated resource plan released in 2014.

NB Power "has assumed Coleson Cove continues to operate on heavy fuel oil for the life of the facility" the document says.

And because it only runs during peak winter demand periods, the utility expected to extend Coleson Cove's operating life until 2040.

"This facility is an important asset in meeting in-province needs," the resource plan says.

NB Power CEO Gaetan Thomas said that the utility expected the committee would make far-reaching recommendations, and that they would be reviewed. (CBC)
The document says Belledune, the province's only coal-fired plant, will run until 2044, when strict federal regulations on coal-fired generation effectively rule out an extension.

The phase-out would cut short both of those forecasts.

NB Power turned down an interview request, but a written statement by CEO Gaetan Thomas said the utility "expected that [the recommendations] would be as far reaching and challenging as they are.

"We will review the recommendations and the implications of meeting the proposed targets while meeting our mandate of low and stable rates, and we will work closely with the provincial government to tackle the critical issue of climate change," Thomas said.

The challenge for NB Power is that some of its generating stations will start closing in 2026, and by 2031 there won't be enough generation to meet demand.

That's assuming the utility's initiative to reduce and shift demand to off-peak hours succeeds. If it doesn't, the shortfall would be four years earlier.

The coal-fired Belledune generating plant would have to be shut down by 2030 if recommendations by the climate change committee are followed. (NB Power)
Either way, if the committee recommendation is adopted and the two plants close early in 2030, the utility will have even less generation to meet demand.

And by 2039 the Point Lepreau nuclear generating station will reach the end of its design life, taking more base generation off the grid and create a greater potential shortfall.

Only recommendations cautions minister

Environment Minister Serge Rousselle cautioned on Monday, the report is just a series of recommendations and it's too soon to say if the Gallant government will adopt them.

"We're going to work with the different options and look at the question with our partners," he said. "We'll certainly have to talk to NB Power. … We want to make sure this province strengthens its climate change plan and all options are there."

Green party leader David Coon, part of the committee that made the recommendation, said the Belledune plant might be converted to burn wood chips or wood pellets, but that would produce "probably not quite the same output."

Coon says given Coleson Cove's larger size, "I don't see any options for doing anything with Coleson Cove by 2030, other than having mothballed it or decommissioned it."


Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.