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New Brunswick banking on nuclear, Atlantic Loop to meet power needs after coal phase-out

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick opposition question plan for Belledune generating plant'
New Brunswick opposition question plan for Belledune generating plant
WATCH: As the 2030 deadline to phase out coal power generation approaches, opposition MLAs in New Brunswick say the government isn’t moving fast enough to ensure that power from the province’s generation plant in Belledune will be replaced. Silas Brown reports. – Jan 18, 2023

New Brunswick’s deputy minister of natural resources and energy development says the province is looking to additional nuclear capacity and upgraded transition lines in order to meet its power needs after coal power generation is phased out in 2030.

NB Power’s Belledune Generating Station is the province’s only coal-fired generation plant and has a capacity of more than 450 megawatts making it one of the province’s largest power generators. That capacity will need to be replaced by 2030, when a federal ban on the use of coal power takes effect.

Tom MacFarlane said NB Power is also looking at replacement fuels for the Belledune station in order to keep it running until the end of its lifespan in 2040.

“The utility is still conducting an assessment of alternatives,” MacFarlane told the legislature’s public accounts committee Wednesday.

“(They’re) exploring such things other fuel sources, like biomass or other elements.”

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MacFarlane listed small modular nuclear reactors, along with power purchase agreements through the Atlantic Loop project as other avenues to supply the province’s power needs. The province’s first SMR is expected to be online in 2029 and provide 100 MW of power, should the current projections hold. Another 300-MW reactor is hoped to come online sometime in the early 2030s.

The future of the Atlantic Loop, the name for a series of power transmission upgrades allowing for the transfer of power between the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, is still up in the air with the funding share between the provinces and federal government still in dispute.

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Liberal MLA Guy Arseneault said the province needs to be more proactive in ensuring that it will be able to generate the power needed to keep the lights on past 2030.

“The Atlantic Loop is to bring power in from outside sources, it’s not going to help generate power in New Brunswick, so there has to be a plan, there has to be some urgency to it as well,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia government says still no commitment from Ottawa on Atlantic Loop'
Nova Scotia government says still no commitment from Ottawa on Atlantic Loop

Arseneault is the MLA for Campbellton-Dalhousie, not far away from Belledune. He says the province needs to act quickly to ensure it can transition the existing plant in order to retain the 100 or so jobs currently offered at the facility.

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“We have a workforce there that is well-trained and ready to go,” he said. “It should be maintained.”

Others are questioning why the province hasn’t looked to expand its renewable energy capacity. Department staff were asked twice how the province planned to replace the output from Belledune and didn’t mention an expansion of renewable power.

Green leader David Coon pointed out that Nova Scotia received about $250 million from the federal government over the summer for wind power and storage infrastructure from the Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program.

So far, the only money from the program to flow into the province was to Saint John Energy for its Burchill Wind project, but department staff said they recently wrote to the federal government asking what sort of funding it could get under the program.

Coon worries the government’s investment in building an SMR industry in the province is blinding it to other options.

“It’s a political problem,” he said. “Politically the premier of Nova Scotia is on board with going renewable and here in New Brunswick the premier is 100 per cent onside with going nuclear.”

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