EDMUNDSTON – The co-chairmen of New Brunswick’s energy commission are warning that new energy projects in the province could hurt economic growth.
Jeannot Volpé and Bill Thompson launched the commission’s public consultation process in Edmundston on Tuesday, in efforts to engage the public in developing a 10-year provincial energy plan.
The panel heard repeated calls in its first meeting for the provincial government to move and expand on a proposed community energy policy, with energy co-operatives and municipalities hoping to cash in.
“The municipality of Edmundston is in great health economically thanks to its energy services,” said Edmundston Mayor Jacques Martin, in regard to the city utility.
“From an economic standpoint, it is legitimate to wish to increase energy production.
“The province must implement its policy on community energy and those incentives that are connected with it.”
But while Thompson agreed that community energy projects do have value in terms of an added revenue stream, the former deputy minister of energy said it would be difficult to supply the power at a competitive rate.
“The question I have is that you talk about economic development associated with the development of wind and more dams,” he said. “Is it more important to go that route if it drives up the cost of energy that could have an influence or impact on economic development in other sectors?”
New Brunswick’s energy consumption is lower than it was just a few years ago – due in large part to a loss of some large industrial customers. Thompson said new generation assets may not be warranted.
NB Power has a total installed capacity of about 3,200 megawatts, yet demand peaked at 850 megawatts last summer and 2,800 megawatts last winter.
The province can also buy power from the United States for as little as five cents per kilowatt hour – about half the estimated cost of power from a new wind project – according to Thompson.
La Co-opérative d’énergie renouvelable du nord-ouest, a group made up of municipalities and not-for-profit groups, has previously submitted an application to the provincial government to build a 15-megawatt wind farm, enough to power between 2,400 and 3,000 homes.
Paul-Émile Soucy, a Saint-Basile farmer and president of the co-operative, said Tuesday that the community energy policy must expand its parameters to allow larger projects.
Community energy policy projects are currently defined as those with less than 15 megawatts of generation that are 51 per cent or more owned by First Nations, municipalities, co-operatives, or not-for-profit organizations.
The policy created last year allowed for up to 75 megawatts for community energy projects, one-third of which is allocated to First Nations.
Volpé later said it will be the commission’s task to determine whether there can be a balance between creating more energy capacity while at the same time sustaining competitive energy rates essential to industry.
Dale Paterson, a spokesman for Twin Rivers Paper Company, called on the commission to establish a “green power” rate for power produced by future biomass plants to assist in securing the future of communities as well.
He also said the province should challenge private business and provide incentives to industry to generate additional “green power” through biomass cogeneration.
Twin Rivers in Edmundston is the only commercial biomass cogeneration facility running in New Brunswick. It has three steam-driven turbines with a total capacity of 53.5 megawatts, with a fourth turbine in Madawaska, Maine with the capacity to generate an additional 21 megawatts.
But Paterson said that the price for biomass within the province’s current policies “provides there will be no future development in biomass.”
“People cannot afford to develop biomass at the prices that are paid today,” he said.
Paterson also commented on the future of the province’s power rates by telling an audience of roughly 40 people what even a slight increase in power would mean to the paper plant.
In addition to the power it generates, Twin Rivers also purchases $33 million in power annually from New Brunswick’s Crown corporation.
“As you can see, if there is even a one per cent increase in the cost of power it has a tremendous effect,” Paterson said.
Volpé, a former Tory cabinet minister, and Thompson were the two consultants Premier David Alward appointed to develop the province’s long-term energy policy. They are seeking the public’s input on the direction they should be heading in.
The provincial government created the New Brunswick Energy Commission in October with a mandate to report to government on a long-term energy plan by May 2011.
The commission will travel to eight more municipalities. Volpé and Thompson will be at Campbellton’s Civic Centre today to hear presentations by interested groups and individuals at 2 p.m.
Public open house on energy in New Brunswick will begin at 4 p.m., with a public dialogue session beginning at 6:30 p.m.
New Brunswickers can also contribute ideas and opinions through an online questionnaire posted on the energy commission’s website or by written submission to firstname.lastname@example.org