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Clean energy transition will be difficult, says Higgs, as he unveils 12-year strategy

Plan involves doubling nuclear energy generation capacity by developing small modular reactors

The New Brunswick government has laid out a strategy for how it broadly plans to ramp up capacity for renewable and nuclear energy generation, while reducing the province’s reliance on diesel and oil.

But the 12-year plan unveiled Wednesday falls short of putting a price tag on the transition, with Premier Blaine Higgs warning it will be a “difficult” endeavour that will require help from Ottawa.

“Is it going to be easy? No it’s not,” Higgs said at a news conference in Fredericton.

“We have to balance affordability and the reliability, and … ensure that at the end of the day we don’t put more and more hardship on the citizens to a point where they just can’t afford to live and work in our province.

“Are we on a path to higher energy costs? Absolutely. I mean that path was set 10 years ago, I would say, by the federal government.”

The strategy, titled “Powering our Economy and the World with Clean Energy,” lays out a series of objectives the province hopes to meet between now and 2035.

If followed through on, the strategy would see New Brunswick quadruple its reliance on renewable sources of energy such as wind and hydroelectricity, while doubling its nuclear energy production through the startup of small modular reactors.

Meanwhile, the province would convert its Belledune generating station from burning coal to burning biomass, while relying on its gas and diesel-fired power plants only on rare occasions when demand exceeds capacity — anticipated to only account for one per cent of the province’s needs by 2035.

The provincial government’s strategy aims to position New Brunswick to meet the federally set target for the province to decarbonize its electrical grid by 2035.

It comes just months after N.B Power, the Crown utility, released its own report indicating “considerable uncertainty” when it came to how it planned to do so.

The report, released in August, said a mix of wind power, a costly update to the Mactaquac Dam, an extension to the life of its Bayside gas-fired plant and small modular reactors, were all essential to meeting the 2035 deadline.

But the cost of developing small modular reactors — a key pillar in the plan — remains a “significant unknown,” and the timing of their deployment depends on the pace of the technology.

Speaking alongside Higgs on Wednesday, Energy and Natural Resources Development Minister Mike Holland said the province has familiarity with the costs associated with wind and hydroelectricity, but admitted the cost for bringing small modular nuclear reactors up to the anticipated capacity remains unknown.

Mike Holland speaks at a news conference in Fredericton.
Energy Minister Mike Holland says he doesn’t know how much small modular reactors will cost long term but is hoping the federal government comes forward to help develop the technology. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

“We will be looking to the federal government to assist and join us in funding some of the projects, some of the research,” Holland said.

“And at the end of the day when we move forward, we also have an understanding that the ratepayers of the province in New Brunswick have thresholds and we certainly aren’t going to be moving into an area that exceeds the ability to pay.”

According to a chart included in the province’s latest report, nuclear energy is expected to be the largest source of electricity, at 38 per cent, by 2035.

It’s followed by wind at 23 per cent, clean energy imports at 19 per cent, hydroelectricity at 11 per cent, natural gas at three per cent, and solar and diesel and oil at single percentage each.

Too much reliance on nuclear, Coon says

Green Party Leader David Coon said he was disappointed by the strategy’s plan to double the capacity of nuclear energy in the province.

He said the energy source is among the most expensive in the world and could contribute to higher rates for consumers if it becomes relied on to the degree set out in the plan.

“So they want to double it, which means to me, doubling the debt for N.B. Power and doubling power rates for New Brunswickers, on top of the ecological consequences of going more into the nuclear realm.”

Coon also questioned how the strategy arrived at a forecast that sees the total amount of electricity consumed in the province going up by 60 per cent by 2035.

“We just can’t support that growth. I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

Liberals want greater focus on refurbishment

Liberal energy critic René Legacy said he admired how the strategy took a broad look at the province’s energy ambitions, such as targets around efficiency and generating electricity both on and off the grid.

A man in a suit with a handheld microphone pointed in his direction
Liberal energy critic René Legacy says he would have liked to have sees the strategy say more about the need to refurbish aging infrastructure. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

But he said he thought there should have been more attention paid to aging infrastructure.

“I still find it’s a little lacking on the situation we have right now, which is aging assets that need refurbishment, and we’re kind of dragging our feet on them,” Legacy said.

Legacy said whether N.B. Power goes ahead with a $3 billion refurbishment of the Mactaquac generating station looms large in the backdrop, adding that other generating stations will be nearing their end of life in the next two decades.

“I’m not saying it should be one or the other, but it just seems the minister is focused on new technologies like small modular reactors.”

Source: CBC News