Author by : John Chilibeck/Legislature Bureau
Photo by :John Chilibeck/Legislature Bureau
It’s news to me that it’s in any way affordable for powering a large power plant. It would be far more expensive than conventional renewables, such as biogas, wind, or solar. – David Coon
NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas announces a plan Wednesday to convert the coal-fired generating station at Belledune to other fuel sources as Rick Doucet, the minister of energy and resource development, looks on.
FREDERICTON • “Hundreds of millions” of dollars will be spent converting NB Power’s last coal-fired generating station in Belledune, a move that will save jobs in the northern village, says the public utility’s CEO.
Gaëtan Thomas said Wednesday it could save money for ratepayers in the long run because the alternative fuel source could be much cheaper. The announcement means the future of the facility in the economically depressed northern village is likely secure. The plant employs 110 people.
The utility was under pressure from a federally imposed deadline to eliminate coal-fired plants by 2030.
Over the short term, NB Power will spend $7 million to investigate the use of hydrogen fuel, biomass and natural gas as alternatives.
Thomas put great stock in the possibility of hydrogen, an experiment that could lead the power plant industry in North America. Such a system would most rely on seawater to generate fuel.
“We have lots of free seawater in New Brunswick,” he said.
NB Power has been under pressure to reduce its carbon emissions and help combat climate change. The Belledune Generating Station, about 44 kilometres north of Bathurst, has alternated in recent years between being the biggest and second-biggest greenhouse gas polluter in the province.
Rick Doucet, the minister of energy and resource development, said talks over Belledune had been intensive ever since the Trudeau Liberal government in Ottawa said it wanted to phase out coal earlier this year.
“Climate change is the biggest issue facing humankind,” he said at the Fredericton news conference. “It’s something we can’t shy away from and it’s something we all need to address. And we can’t let ourselves believe that climate change is something that’s happening in some far-flung place on the other side of the world.”
Doucet expressed confidence an alternative fuel source could work at Belledune, but he said in the unlikely event it couldn’t, New Brunswick would pursue an equivalency agreement with Ottawa that would let the coal plant keep running if the province reduced emissions elsewhere.
Ottawa’s push to get rid of coal no doubt worried people at the plant whose livelihoods depend on it. Thomas emphasized Wednesday to say how great the workers were and how well the plant had performed relative to other coal-fired plants, winning several industry awards.
“It has consistently performed very well and has been and will keep being a big part of our generation fleet. It is a key reason we continue to be able to provide our customers with stable and affordable rates.”
He said if the conversion of the facility is successful, it was possible the plant’s design life could be extended from 2043 to decades beyond that. He also talked about the possibility of converting the Coleson Cole generating plant, near Saint John, from heavy fuel.
Advances in hydrogen technology have mostly been for smaller-scale projects, such as for heating a building or running a vehicle. Using it for a power plant, said Green party leader David Coon, was more ambitious.
“It’s news to me that it’s in any way affordable for powering a large power plant,” he told reporters. “It would be far more expensive than conventional renewables, such as biogas, wind, or solar.”
Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, called Wednesday’s announcement good news.
“I don’t think anyone in Canada thinks that burning one of the dirtiest fuels available is a good idea. It will make a significant contribution to the New Brunswick climate change action plan.”