NB Power had to fire up most of its electrical plants on the first day of summer to avoid rolling blackouts, the second time this year the public utility was forced into such a nerve-racking situation.
The news was disclosed at the legislature’s public accounts committee on Friday by Thomas MacFarlane, the deputy minister of natural resources and energy development, who said heavy use of air conditioners on June 1, the first day of summer according to the meteorological calendar, created big problems.
On that sticky day, the temperature hit 33.9 C in Fredericton – the hottest day so far this year.
“We fired up all the available generation systems to generate our own power,” MacFarlane told the committee of politicians. “Normally we bring power in from outside sources, such as Hydro-Quebec, but we were curtailed at that time by Hydro-Quebec.”
“So it is a concern.”
NB Power confirmed to Brunswick News it had to get generators such as Coleson Cove in Saint John running, which are normally on standby for peak loads during the winter. But it didn’t hit an all-time peak load that day as it had on Feb. 4, when the region was plunged into a deep freeze and wind chills made it feel colder than -40 C.
Dominique Couture, a spokeswoman for NB Power, said on June 1 the province of Quebec was dealing with significant forest fires at the same time that much of NB Power’s generating fleet was undergoing regular maintenance. Hydro-Quebec couldn’t sell power to New Brunswick that day.
This led to some concern there wouldn’t be enough electricity to serve everyone drawing on the system.
“Knowing this, our team quickly reacted to bring all available generation online, ensuring energy supply was not impacted in New Brunswick,” she wrote in an email. “While this was a peak period for the summer, it is not comparable to winter peaks when the load on the New Brunswick grid is the most significant.”
She said although customers weren’t impacted, energy security was of utmost importance to the utility.
“We need to ensure that New Brunswick has an adequate in-province supply to withstand a rapidly transforming grid, climate change and unforeseen circumstances.”
Several politicians from all three parties questioned MacFarlane on Friday whether the Progressive Conservative government was prepared to meet the province’s growing electrical demands and doing enough to also conserve energy.
Tory MLA Andrea Anderson-Mason asked whether rolling blackouts would be an ongoing concern.
“We’ll just turn all our air conditioners off that day,” she said facetiously.
She also questioned whether the province was prepared for the growing appetite for electric vehicles. As the MLA for a largely rural area in much of Charlotte County in the southwestern part of the province, she said chargers were few and far between.
The province has a goal of half of vehicle sales to be electric rather than gasoline by 2030, in only seven years. That’s based on pressure put on by the Liberal government in Ottawa, which wants sales across the country to be 100 per cent electric by 2035, in its effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
But New Brunswick still has no comprehensive plan for all the charging stations and more electricity that would be required.
As it stands, only 3,000 electric vehicles have been sold in the province, a number it hopes to reach closer to 140,000 by 2030.
But the province still only has 46 fast charging stations where people can recharge their vehicles quickly, rather than waiting hours at slow chargers.
By contrast, in the Netherlands, where electrical vehicles sales have been strong, 4,376 fast charging stations have been installed in a country that geographically is just over half the size of New Brunswick.
Even on a per-person basis, it has far more. It works out to 4,000 people per fast charger in the Netherlands and 18,000 people per fast charger in New Brunswick.
Green party Leader David Coon said it was becoming increasingly common to see people waiting in line at electrical charge stations and that the province wasn’t keeping up. He said it would make sense to invest in solar-driven charging stations, such as one in Petit-Rocher on the Acadian Peninsula.
He pointed out that charging stations aren’t even universal, with Tesla stations incompatible for other brands that sell e-vehicles.
“It seems to me there’s a clear role for your department to bring some planning to help build up this infrastructure, and for NB Power,” Coon said. “I don’t know why they haven’t created a subsidiary company dedicated to delivering charging stations to EVs across the province.”
MacFarlane, who had earlier stated that the big impediment standing in the way of more electrical vehicle sales in New Brunswick was supply chain issues, pleaded for patience.
“I agree. That’s why we’ve done a needs assessment and the infrastructure needs to be addressed if we’re going to achieve our goals and if we’re going to have the ability for e-vehicles to become the mainstream.”
The deputy minister said the next step was for his department to come up with a plan based on the needs assessment that would involve the utility. He said it might involve providing government incentives to retail outlets to install such devices to their businesses.
Committee members asked for a copy of the completed needs assessment, but the deputy minister said it hadn’t been translated yet. He promised to get it to them as soon as possible.
By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 11, 2023 at 10:37