Deal: Province should also look at home-grown renewable sources as option, session told

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick should secure a long-term power purchasing contract while developing home-grown renewable energies, instead of locking itself into a permanent deal to sell generating assets of NB Power, energy experts said Monday.

The current tentative agreement represents “a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Gordon Weil, one of a handful of energy experts to speak at the Options Summit, a public conference organized by the Coalition of New Brunswickers: NB Power Not For Sale.

Weil, who analyzed the deal for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, suggests signing a 10-year power supply arrangement with Hydro-Québec. Most experts present at the summit issued similar recommendations.

The speakers clashed on some matters, such as the need for nuclear energy, but all agreed the province must consider a variety of options to revitalize NB Power – a process that will stretch beyond the government’s March 31 deadline for the deal.

Nearly a dozen experts – including university professors, researchers, energy consultants, engineers and conservationists – laid out their visions Monday to turn the province into an energy hub without selling NB Power.

They stressed the need for an overall energy policy before the deal is signed.

New Brunswick’s location makes it “key” to energy transmission throughout the East Coast, Quebec and New England, the experts said.

It also boasts tremendous potential for renewable energy, including wind, solar and tidal power.

New Brunswick could become “the Saudi Arabia of wind,” said Yves Gagnon, K.C. Irving Chair in Sustainable Development at the UniversitĂ© de Moncton.

“We’re losing a big opportunity by not developing, not owning these wind farms in New Brunswick,” Gagnon said, noting that a 100-megawatt wind farm would produce $200 million in net profits over 25 years.

If the province imports all its power, it will eliminate opportunities for job creation and a renewed manufacturing sector, he said.

It would also be foolish to give up export revenue, said Peter Corbyn, co-founder of GreenNexxus, an online community that focuses on environmental issues.

The experts agreed the province would still need to buy power, because of major fluctuations in the energy output from renewable sources such as wind and tides.

That could be done through a long-term power purchasing agreement, rather than a permanent one, they said.

“The government has tabled one option to the status quo, revised it, but so far, the paper that’s on the table has been laid face down,” said Paul Bogaard, professor of environmental philosophy at Mount Allison University.

“We need clearly enunciated options if we’re to make our best judgment on how to position ourselves in the future.”