Article by John Chilibeck
Photo from Times & Transcript archive
“The emphasis on the part of government has to be on helping us save energy and helping us switch to renewable energy,” (David Coon) said in a media scrum. “We are not going to get anywhere near close the 2030 target unless we up our game in helping people save energy and helping businesses switch to renewable energy. Those two are the key elements and that’s how we can help solve climate change.
FREDERICTON • The provincial government has its work cut out for it if it wants to hit greenhouse gas reduction targets, particularly when it comes to NB Power’s coal-fired plant at Belledune, says New Brunswick’s auditor general.
In her annual report released Tuesday, Kim MacPherson said climate change caused by emissions was a big threat, especially in coastal and low-lying areas, given the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events plaguing communities.
Showing images of the historic flood that forced hundreds of people from their homes and businesses in the village of Perth-Andover in 2013, the devastation across Central New Brunswick during post-tropical storm Arthur’s rampage in 2014 and the ice storm that knocked out electricity to half of NB Power’s customers earlier this year, the auditor general told a committee of politicians at the legislature the province had to be much more aggressive if it wants to significantly shrink its carbon footprint.
“The province will not meet the 2030 and 2050 targets it has established without significant action,” she said.
New Brunswick, the report said, remains the only province with a coal-fired electrical generating station that has no agreement or agreement in principle with Ottawa to reduce emissions.
MacPherson told the committee Alberta had already announced it would phase out its plants by 2030, and Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia had agreements in principle with Ottawa that they would keep running their coal-fired plants beyond that year, with the understanding they’d cut greenhouse gases aggressively elsewhere.
No such agreement exists in New Brunswick, but the government says it’s negotiating to reach a deal.
Belledune, in northern New Brunswick, supplies about 13 per cent of the province’s power needs, but produces just over two megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year out of a total of about 14 megatonnes provincewide.
NB Power told the auditor general for her report that it was working with the Department of Environment and Local Government “on various greenhouse gas scenarios,” including the phase out of coal by 2030 and 2040. It also pledged to its next integrated resource plan should have emission reduction targets that may affect Belledune.
Serge Rousselle, the minister of environment and local government, told reporters shortly after the report’s release his Liberal government was still working on its climate change plan.
He said when it came to the Belledune plant, his government was negotiating with Ottawa whether it will get some sort of financial compensation.
“Obviously, as you can imagine, when there are negotiations I cannot comment more,” he said.
He added that his government was still working on a carbon pricing mechanism ahead of the January deadline Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has imposed on the provinces for coming up with a plan.
“We are still working hard on that file. I don’t have any announcement to make. As I’ve mentioned before, we are doing everything we can to have a made-in-New Brunswick solution in respect to the environment and the regional economy. So we’re working on that.”
The report wasn’t all bad. It noted that New Brunswick had reached an emissions peak of 23 megatonnes in 2001, a period MacPherson said coincided with a doubling of fuel exports, mostly from Saint John’s Irving Oil refinery. She said the refinery is the province’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, releasing just under three megatonnes in 2015, the latest date for which figures are available. In September 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada data pegged the Saint John refinery as the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in New Brunswick, second only behind Belledune.
Irving Oil did not immediately reply to messages Tuesday.
Since 2001, a number of factors have drastically reduced emissions: NB Power scaled back use of its oil-burning Coleson Cove plant and closed fossil-fuel stations at Dalhousie and Grand Lake outright. A former Crown Corporation that has since been disbanded by the Liberal government, Efficiency New Brunswick, also made good progress in reducing emissions from homes and businesses, the report showed.
The sharp reduction meant New Brunswick only narrowly missed its greenhouse gas reduction target for 2012 by a small amount, generating 16.9 megatonnes that year when it had set a goal of 16.4 megatonnes.
MacPherson said the province has already surpassed the 2020 goal of reducing the amount to 14.8 megatonnes, but reaching 10.7 megatonnes by 2030 and five megatonnes by 2050 will be much harder, she warned.
One megatonne alone is the equivalent emissions produced yearly by 106,000 homes, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculator.
“To sum up, on climate change, the province and NB Power have made progress towards commitments to reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to climate change,” MacPherson said. “However, the most recent climate change action items do not have any timeline, allocated funding or implementations plans.”
Glen Savoie, the Tory MLA for Saint John, argued the achievements up to now were simply caused by years of economic downturn.
“The loss of industry in New Brunswick has contributed the reductions,” he said, while asking the auditor general questions. “It’s not a very proud moment to say, ‘Yay! We’re achieving our greenhouse gas reductions because people are losing our jobs.’ That’s never a good thing.”
Green Party leader David Coon said New Brunswick desperately needed an agency that was similar to Efficiency New Brunswick to help more people and businesses reduce their carbon footprint.
“The emphasis on the part of government has to be on helping us save energy and helping us switch to renewable energy,” he said in a media scrum. “We are not going to get anywhere near close the 2030 target unless we up our game in helping people save energy and helping businesses switch to renewable energy. Those two are the key elements and that’s how we can help solve climate change.”
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick lauded the auditor general’s report, particularly her call for the government to introduce legislation to set its pollution targets into law, similar to that found in British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia.
“We couldn’t agree more and might go even a bit further — let’s see the legislation introduced the next time the Legislative Assembly meets, and let’s hope all parties vote for its speedy adoption,” said Lois Corbett, the council’s executive director.
As it stands, New Brunswick is in the middle of the pack in Canada when it comes to emissions, according to the report: Each person generates on average 17.5 tonnes, compared to the Canadian average of 20.1 tonnes, seventh out of 13 provinces and territories.