Atlantic Loop is key to New Brunswick’s coal phase-out

In a sign that Ottawa is moving forward with its Atlantic Loop plans, Environment and Climate Change Canada has confirmed that it is rejecting New Brunswick’s request to operate its Belledune coal-fired power plant in the US. beyond 2030.

Introduced in the Liberal Party’s 2019 platform, the Atlantic Loop is a policy that connects the power grids of Atlantic Canada to allow hydroelectricity to flow from Quebec and Labrador into the Maritimes to offset power plants in the Maritimes. coal.

Meanwhile, Belledune is the highest emitting power station in Atlantic Canada according to 2019 greenhouse gas emissions data, spewing out about 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions this year – the. It is New Brunswick’s second-largest emitter after the Irving Oil refinery, which created approximately 2.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution in 2019.

Despite the federal government’s goal of phasing out “traditional” coal-fired electricity generation by 2030, earlier this year New Brunswick announced it was pursuing an equivalency agreement with the federal government. which would allow Belledune to operate until 2040. The province wanted to keep the plant running because the Crown utility NB Power is grappling with a mountain of debt, and the coal-fired plant has an expected life that extends beyond 2030, which means closing it earlier adds to the financial costs of the utility.

The province estimated that the shutdown in 2030 would force electricity rates to rise 12-17% in 2030 and require the construction of new power generation to replace it, citing this as a rationale for keeping the plant operating. .

“Our government is fully committed to phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030 in all regions of the country, including New Brunswick,” said ECCC spokesperson Gabriel Brunet.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs reportedly wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October asking Ottawa to release at least $ 5 billion to help New Brunswick and Nova Scotia phase out energy in the coal.

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“We are pleased to see recent comments from the Government of New Brunswick that it is also seeking to accelerate the phase-out (of) coal in the province and to partner with the federal government on the Atlantic Loop,” Brunet said.

Louise Comeau, director of climate and energy at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, called the federal confirmation of the closure of Belledune by 2030 “absolutely huge”, adding that it was a signal to others. provinces to continue signing equivalency agreements.

“I think what really sealed the deal for New Brunswick was that Nova Scotia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, which all have multiple coal plants – not one, like us – all have said they were going to comply, ”Comeau said.

“Once those three provinces say they will comply, it’s much easier for (Ottawa) to say, ‘No, we’re not expanding that outlier,’” she added.

Coal accounts for over 60 percent of Nova Scotia’s electricity production, coming from plants like Linga, Trenton, Point Aconi and others. New Brunswick, meanwhile, gets about 40 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, 30 percent from fossil fuels including coal, 20 percent from hydropower and the rest from wind and biomass.

According to the most recent data from Canada’s energy regulator, Alberta gets 49 percent of its electricity from burning natural gas, 43 percent from coal and the rest from renewables. Saskatchewan is slightly better, with 43 percent of its electricity coming from natural gas, 40 percent from coal and the rest from renewables.

Among Canada’s top 100 emitters are coal-fired power plants in these four provinces. Saskatchewan’s Boundary Dam and Poplar River power plants, both owned by Crown utility SaskPower, were the two highest emitting coal-fired power plants in the province in 2019, pumping over five million tonnes and 3 million tonnes respectively. , 5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In Alberta, the most emitting coal and natural gas power plants were the Genesee thermal plant, owned by Capital Power, and the Keephills plant, owned by TransAlta. Genesee emitted over 8.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2019, while Keephills emitted over 7.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Coordinating the phase-out of fossil fuels will require leadership from the federal government, and Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May says the closure of Belledune shows why.

“One of the key things that this Belledune shutdown should include is moving to establishing an east-west power grid and building where interconnections are a problem,” she said, acknowledging the jurisdictional challenges of provinces having responsibility for electricity generation at the same time. federal policies demand steep emission reductions.

Yet “the interconnection of the grid between provinces is also a key way to ensure that we can use the grid like a giant battery,” she added.

When the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, the options for keeping electricity flowing in a post-fossil world are to rely on reliable sources of generation like hydroelectric dams, battery technologies. to store renewable energy or large-scale power grids that can move electrons from where they can be generated to where they are needed. In Canada, it is more common for power grids to be stitched north-south with the US-east-west markets, where transmission lines would have to cover greater distances to reach fewer people.

Phasing out coal-fired power requires long-term energy planning to determine exactly how that electricity will be replaced.

“We need to take this chance to further democratize energy so that every community, where possible, has solar panels on every roof, has wind turbines in every suitable location, benefits from geothermal energy where possible and feeds it into a network. that gets energy where it’s needed, ”said May.

Atlantic premiers are interested in the federal Atlantic Loop plan in part because it shifts the cost of decarbonizing their books, Comeau said.

“The Atlantic Loop is a major infrastructure investment project. There is so much to do in terms of community consultation and investment and building transmission lines that span an entire province in less than eight years, ”she said.

Comeau explained that because New Brunswick is unlikely to do all of the work necessary to build the Atlantic Loop by 2030, the province will likely need to add renewable energy production to its mix in the instead of relying on the possibility of importing electricity from other provinces. . However, the federal government is aiming for an emission-free electricity grid by 2035, of which the Atlantic loop would play an essential role.

“This conversation must have started a long time ago under (the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) to talk about free, prior and informed consent on the routing” of the Atlantic Loop, said May.

“It’s a big project, it will employ a lot of people, it will modernize Canada; it is essential to quickly reduce our emissions, and to do so, we must work with good federal-provincial cooperation, ”she said. “But I think you have to announce what the vision is, and why it’s essential, so there is a national public opinion in favor of a good solution, so if a recalcitrant public service says no, there is a public response that says come on, we have to function as a country.

Conservative shadow climate minister Dan Albas said the federal government should work with the provinces.

“The provinces know what energy mix is ​​best for them, and it is time for the federal government to come to the table to support them on the path to achieving this goal,” he said in a statement.

A recent Clean Energy Canada report highlighted the need for the country to increase renewable energy production and build a national electricity grid in order to meet emissions reduction targets and prepare for a stronger global economy. green.

According to a meeting note that Canada’s National Observer received in connection with a federal access to information request, over the past 15 years, annual capital expenditures for production, transportation and electricity distribution have “fluctuated between 20 and 25 billion dollars per year”.

This same note, prepared for officials at Natural Resources Canada, recognizes the importance of increasing clean energy production and notes that there are lessons to be learned from progress on the Atlantic Loop that could help others ” electrification initiatives ”.



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