New Brunswick communities are looking to develop their local economies. New Brunswick municipalities are looking for new sources of revenue. And in the face of the climate emergency, we need to reduce our energy demand and phase out our use of fossil fuels. The development of our abundant renewable energy resources holds the key to meeting all of these goals. It’s why I toured the province last month to learn about the barriers to growing the renewable energy industry to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
New Brunswick is the Alberta of wind energy with world class wind regimes. Today, wind is also one of the least costly means to generate electricity at 4-6 cents/kwh. New Brunswick has the best potential for solar production in the Maritimes, with southwestern New Brunswick and the Chaleur region particularly rich in solar resources. Our food, seafood, and wood products processing industries are substantial sources of bio-wastes, which are the raw materials for manufacturing biogas and biofuels to replace propane, diesel and heating oil.
On my tour, I met mayors and municipal electricity utility executives. I met solar energy entrepreneurs, wind farm managers and home builders. I visited solar, wind and micro-hydro power facilities. What I found was that the potential for growing the renewable power industry in New Brunswick is blocked by NB Power’s stranglehold on the electricity market.
I met willing buyers for renewable power. I met renewable energy developers. And I met with renewable energy investors. But their ability to succeed depends entirely on the willingness of NB Power to buy and re-sell renewable power. They have been a reluctant partner, at best.
That is why, 14 years ago, Premier Bernard Lord imposed a regulatory requirement on NB Power to provide 10 % of NB Power’s electricity sales from new sources of local renewable power generation by 2016. To-date, 8.5 % of the power we consume comes from new renewable power generation that was installed since 2005.
Municipalities that operate their own electricity utilities are permitted to buy local renewable power from private power producers within their city limits. Saint John Energy, one of only three municipalities with their own power companies, plans to buy new renewable power from dedicated wind and solar farms. Perth-Andover buys hydro-power, while Edmundston generates its own hydro-electricity. Every other municipality at a disadvantage, unable to buy wind, solar power, or hydro power from anyone other than NB Power.
Why? Because the Electricity Act gives NB Power a monopoly over the electricity market, which is holding back the development of our renewable energy industry. The Electricity Act must be amended to allow for local renewable power retailers to supply electricity to retail customers such as municipalities and First Nations. To grow the renewable energy industry, NB Power’s monopoly over the electricity market must end.
The other pre-requisite for growing the renewable energy industry is structural. The provincial government abandoned renewable energy development when the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Branch was dismantled in 2011. It is essential that Minister of Energy Mike Holland re-establish a Renewable Energy Development Branch in his department. Currently the only energy development group in his department is mandated to develop fossil fuels, not renewable energy resources. Little progress will be made until this changes.
I tabled two bills in the last Legislature designed to grow the renewable and energy efficiency industries. They both were defeated at Second Reading. Premier Higgs said in the Throne Speech that gained him the confidence of the House that he wants to expand renewable energy and stimulate green-economy jobs. To date, he has not spoken publicly about this.
In the coming days, I will table a bill to amend the Electricity Act to enable municipalities, municipal utilities, and First Nations to buy renewable power from locally-owned business and cooperative enterprises.
I met with the Premier on February 20th to share my suggestions for growing the renewable energy industry in New Brunswick. I hope we can work together to bring this about.