Environmental watchdog concerned about ‘rushed’ and ‘ad hoc’ energy projects

An environmental watchdog group has both praise and concerns about some possible new energy developments in New Brunswick.

The Port of Belledune signed a deal with a German port on Tuesday, as part of a plan to start producing ammonia, as a way to export hydrogen for energy production.

And politicians have voiced support in recent weeks to expand liquefied natural gas operations in Saint John to include liquefaction and export.

Louise Comeau of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick calls the Belledune project, “a good step forward” in terms of reimagining what northern New Brunswick could look like, “with “reindustrialization” based on green energy.

Possible projects raise ‘many questions’

However, Comeau, the council’s director of climate change and energy solutions, is less supportive of the Saint John project and is urging more caution and transparency on both.

“There are many, many questions,” she said.

Comeau wonders how the Belledune plant will be able to guarantee it’s fueled by renewable energy, for one thing.

Louise Comeau, director of climate change and energy solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says the public shoud be given a lot more information before proposed energy development projects get approval. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

She also wants to know where other renewable energy will come from so NB Power can meet targets. The utility is supposed to use renewable energy generation to meet at least 40 per cent of in-province demand for electricity.

Last year, renewable energy supplied 51 per cent of in-province sales, said utility spokesperson Marc Belliveau.

In terms of the Saint John LNG project, Comeau is skeptical of “the hype” that it would be easy to convert the plant from gasification to liquefaction and back again.

“These are complicated processes that use a lot of energy,” she said.

Source of gas uncertain

They take time, she said, and we don’t know where the gas will come from.

Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland suggested earlier this month it would be more realistic for the gas to come from Western Canada than from potential new shale gas operations in New Brunswick.

The latter prospect is another “big concern” for Comeau.

Considering the time it would take for permitting, construction and a gas supply to be secured, she doesn’t think a Saint John LNG export terminal could be operational in the next 24 months, which is the timeframe in which Germany will need natural gas.

It’s only planning to use it during a transition period to a fossil-fuel-free future, she noted.

Comeau’s “biggest concern,” over both projects, is that the province lacks a renewable energy strategy.

Other provinces have these, she said, as does the federal government.

New Brunswick should be planning projects that fit in, she said, and it should have a long-term game plan of its own for clean electricity, critical minerals and hydrogen.

Strategy in the works, Higgs says

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Wednesday that he agrees with the conservation council’s concern.

“We’re putting that strategy together,” he told reporters.

Higgs said the four Atlantic provinces are working together to create a renewable energy strategy.

He said these conversations began about two months ago.

Comeau said she’s “very concerned” about “pushing through” projects ad hoc and very quickly, without proper community consultation or participation in decisions about things like where they should go and what benefits are sought from them.

Urges public involvement

In the absence of including people in that planning, she said, the province could expect to face growing opposition and a loss of trust from the public.

She cited recent protests over a wind-to-hydrogen plant planned in Stephenville, NL

Belledune, on the other hand, is in “excellent shape,” she said.

Community consultation has been done. The site is already industrial. And the project “could proceed fairly quickly in a way people are comfortable with.”

She’s “very supportive” of the process that has been used in Belledune and the idea of ​​developing a green energy hub.

“That is a good thing to do,” she said.

“It would be great if it fit within an overall provincial and regional and national plan.”

“We need to be careful, slow down, think this through and put both the Belledune and Saint John projects in the context of where New Brunswick wants to go.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.