New Brunswick

NB Power emerges as climate-change doomsayer after years of costly storm damage

NB Power is New Brunswick's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and has been for decades, but the utility is also beginning to emerge as one of the province's leading promoters of the perils of global warming.

NB Power paid out nearly $100 million to repair storm damage in past 6 years

Workers assess damage to power lines in Fredericton after post-tropical storm Arthur caused a significant blackout in Fredericton in 2014. Severe storms, like Arthur, have cost NB Power almost $100 million in repairs in the past six years. (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

NB Power is New Brunswick's largest emitter of greenhouse gases and has been for decades, but, as part of its current rate application in front of the Energy and Utilities Board, the utility is also beginning to emerge as one of the province's leading promoters of the perils of global warming.

"A changing climate, and increased storm intensity present new risks for NB Power to manage," the utility wrote earlier this year in its current application for a rate increase to the EUB.

NB Power has a hearing next month in front of the EUB. It's seeking an average 2.5 per cent increase in its rates, one third of which it wants to funnel into a larger budget to deal with damage caused by severe weather.

This week, to help make that case, the utility filed a catalogue of storm data from its internal records with the EUB to show how storms have been getting larger and more destructive to its electrical grid.  

According to that material, NB Power has paid out nearly $100 million to repair damage from 64 storms over the last six years. That's five times more damage than it repaired in the six years prior to that, even though there were 76 storms.

This past year, the utility budgeted $2.7 million for storm repairs — an amount based on historical averages — but spent nearly six times that amount.  

A fallen tree became tangled with power lines in Dieppe last November. (Radio-Canada)

One wind storm alone in early November knocked out power to more than 104,000 customers at its peak and took 300 power line crews six days to fully resolve. That storm cost the utility $7.8 million.

It was the fourth storm in six years to cost NB Power more than $5 million to deal with, including post-tropical storm Arthur that caused $23 million in damage in 2014 and the 2017 ice storm on the Acadian Peninsula that cost $30 million in repairs.    

Storm frequency

It is all a sign of the effect of climate change in the province, according to the utility.

"The frequency and intensity of storms have been increasing in recent years, as evidenced by the fact that NB Power has experienced major weather events in four of the last six years," the utility's application said.   

NB Power claims weather patterns have changed so significantly it can no longer rely on 30-year historical storm damage averages to set its budget and has asked the EUB for permission to use a shorter five-year average.

If approved, that will increase NB Power's storm damage budget to $16.8 million — six times larger than last year's budget.

NB Power President Gaëtan Thomas has been citing climate change as a problem for the utility for several years. (CBC)

NB Power President Gaëtan Thomas has been citing climate change as a problem for the utility for several years, especially after post-tropical storm Arthur hit the province in July of 2014, knocking out power to nearly 200,000 customers.

"We are convinced now that climate change has had some impact," Thomas told CBC News in 2015.

Environment minister not convinced

However, not everyone is as convinced of the link NB Power is making between climate change and more punishing storms in the province, including New Brunswick Environment and Local Government Minister Jeff Carr.

"It could be partly," Carr said Wednesday when asked if increased severe weather in the province is connected to climate change as NB Power is suggesting in front of the EUB.

"I don't know if they're exactly completely the total result of why we're having a lot of floods. There's a lot of issues in New Brunswick more than just climate change that contribute to this so I wouldn't want to give a definitive yes or no because there are lots of reports out there and it just depends on which ones you read."

About the Author

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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