New Brunswick

Researching renewables in the home of Canada's largest oil refinery

Researchers from the University of Guelph are in Greater Saint John this week, gathering public opinions and ideas about potential renewable energy projects in the region.

Saint John partners with University of Guelph to study potential for wind, solar and biomass energy sources

Samir Yammine, energy manager with the City of Saint John, says the city has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to nine per cent below 2015 levels by 2025. (Connell Smith/CBC)

Researchers from the University of Guelph are in greater Saint John this week, gathering public opinions and ideas about potential renewable energy projects in the region.

"We want to really start engaging the public for them to think about this," said Samir Yammine, energy manager with the City of Saint John. 

"We don't want to surprise anybody."

As part of a climate change action plan, the city is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nine per cent below 2015 levels by 2025.

Wind farm in works

One of the ways it's hoping to do that is by producing local renewable energy.

Saint John Energy, the city-owned utility, is already moving ahead with plans to build one wind farm in the Spruce Lake Industrial Park.

The city is looking to map out potential spots for another wind farm, said Yammine. It's also interested in potential sites for a solar farm and gauging interest and potential for energy generation from biomass or industrial waste.

"It could be anything," Yammine said.

"We want to raise awareness on the importance for us to move forward with renewable energy sources and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels."

At the same time, he noted that the public has the right to determine whether the community actually develops renewable energy and what form or forms it will take. 

To that end, the researchers are asking what concerns people have about renewables and what they see as the barriers and challenges — such as the location, cost or social considerations.

Researchers want to know what people in greater Saint John think about wind farms and other renewable energy options.

Fossil fuel is an integral part of the Saint John economy, with the largest oil refinery in Canada, employing about 1,600 people, according to the Irving Oil website, as well as a liquefied natural gas terminal.

Four other urban centres are part of this research project — Moncton, the Waterloo and York regions of Ontario, and Canmore, Alta.

The project is called AIRE, which stands for accelerating implementation of renewable energy. It's funded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The other partner, besides Guelph, is a group called QUEST, or Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow.

The researchers are meeting people in person in communities throughout the Saint John region.

The survey takes about five minutes to complete, said Yammine.

Talking to people around community

The researchers started gathering information Monday in Grand Bay-Westfield. 

Tuesday they spoke with people in Saint John at the Carleton Community Centre and in Quispamsis at the qplex and Kennebecasis Public Library. 

Saint John is interested in hearing ideas for possible solar farm locations in the region. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

The survey takes about five minutes to complete, said Yammine.

Surveys resume Thursday at the YMCA of Greater Saint John on Churchill Boulevard, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Friday the researchers are supposed to be at the Saint John City Market during those same hours. They'll speak to people at McAllister Place Friday evening.

A final session is planned for the Queen Square Farmers Market on Sunday.

The two-year project is expected to wrap up in December 2020.  Yammine said after that, Saint John council will be presented with the best locations for energy projects. 

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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