European starlings fly near the Bayside Generating Station in Saint John. Brunswick News

Ottawa’s proposed new electricity regulations will help combat climate change, but more could be done to close loopholes allowing public utilities to continue spewing greenhouse gases, says an environmental watchdog.

Moe Qureshi, the manager of climate solutions at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, gave a quick assessment of the plan after it was released by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government on Thursday.

“This year’s increase in wildfires and flooding across New Brunswick and the rest of Atlantic Canada proves that we need to address the root of the problem – dirty energy sources like fossil fuels,” Qureshi said. “The Clean Electricity Regulations will ensure Canada remains a global leader in the transition to clean energy.”

The federal government said Thursday that one of the most important ways of reducing emissions was to electrify more parts of the economy that rely on fossil fuels, such as transportation, home and water heating, and industrial activities.

In Canada, most electricity already comes from less-polluting sources such as hydroelectricity, solar, wind and nuclear. But if the country is to achieve a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 as it has promised on the world stage, its electricity supply will need to at least double by then.

As part of this plan, the Trudeau government wants the electricity sector to be a zero-net emitter by 2035, a big task.

NB Power reacted favourably to the proposed regulations.

Spokeswoman Dominique Couture said the public utility was committed to reaching the federal target and had already done work to make it happen.

“We look forward to reviewing the draft regulations in detail,” she wrote in an email on Thursday. “We will continue to work collaboratively with industry and government to achieve this transition in a way that benefits New Brunswickers and are encouraged that the federal government has committed to providing funding to implement changes required to achieve climate goals.”

However, she would not address any of Qureshi’s criticisms, saying her organization preferred to let its statement speak for itself.

Qureshi worries that Ottawa has been too generous with the idea of electrical providers using wood to fuel big generators.

The Belledune Generating Station is the last big power plant in New Brunswick to use coal, considered the dirtiest form of pollution and the biggest greenhouse gas villain. The federal government wants coal at the plant phased out by 2030, and NB Power has already pitched the idea of converting it to biomass, burning waste from the province’s big forest industry.

But the environmentalist warns that wood is better for providing heat than electricity, pointing out that heating is 85 per cent efficient with pellets, whereas to produce electricity it is closer to 30 per cent efficient.

“You’d be chopping down 10 trees just to get three trees’ worth of electricity. That’s not a good idea.”

He’s also concerned with what he considers a loophole, a provision that allows utilities to keep building or upgrading fossil fuel generators until 2025 and keep them running for 20 years afterward.

Qureshi believes this will encourage NB Power to accelerate plans to expand the generator at Bayside in Saint John, which uses natural gas.

“Utilities could use the loophole to beat the deadline of 2025 by speeding up plans to expand fossil fuel use,” he warned.

Overall, he likes the regulations, even if the initial investment would be huge. Ottawa has said it will take about $400 billion to do all the electrical upgrades and in this year’s budget offered up to $40 billion to help.

Even with the burden mostly falling on provincial utilities to make the changes, Qureshi pointed to a recent study by the Climate Change Institute that said if Canadians transition to a net-zero grid, the average Canadian household would spend 12 per cent less on energy in 2050 compared to 2020.

He believes wind, solar and hydro, backed up with powerful batteries, would be cheaper and more environmentally friendly in the long run.

By John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 12, 2023 at 06:35

This item reprinted with permission from   The Daily Gleaner   Fredericton, New Brunswick

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