Environmentalists want Ottawa to reject proposal to burn coal in Belledune until 2040
Environmentalists are trying to block the federal government from approving a New Brunswick plan to continue burning coal at the Belledune plant until 2040, 10 years later than what the current national climate plan allows.
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick urges Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson to reject the idea.
Wilkinson told CBC News it was too early for him to make a decision, but suggested he was open to the idea.
“I’m not yet in a position to make a decision one way or the other, but it’s definitely something that is being discussed,” he said. “I certainly understand the point of view of the Province of New Brunswick.
The deadline for phasing out the use of coal to generate electricity is 2030. Belledune is New Brunswick’s last coal-fired power station.
But the province and NB Power are asking Ottawa for special permission to keep the plant operating beyond that date by reducing its annual production earlier.
They argue that this will spread the same volume of emissions over a longer period and avoid the cost of building a new natural gas-fired power plant to make up for lost production.
This would allow Belledune to operate until 2040, the end of its rated lifespan, while providing emissions reductions “equal to or better” than federal regulations, depending on the province.
The government recently released draft regulations to cap greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, rules that are the basis of the Belledune negotiations.
Natural Resources and Energy Development Minister Mike Holland said in a statement last month that a so-called equivalency agreement would allow “a managed transition” from coal to zero emissions electricity.
“This is not about committing to burning coal until 2040,” he said. “This gives us another option that we can use to further reduce New Brunswick’s carbon footprint.
Louise Comeau, of the Conservation Council, said the provincial proposal lacked detailed information showing that the volume of emissions would be truly equivalent if spread out until 2040.
“I don’t have that. I can’t look at that. I can’t add up the numbers and say ‘the ceiling that is proposed is really equivalent’. So we are asking for transparency.
Comeau co-signed a letter to Wilkinson this week urging him to reject the idea altogether.
“This idea that we can actually keep burning fossil fuels is an idea we just need to grapple with and understand the reality: no, we can’t,” she said. “A ton is a ton is a ton.”
But if Wilkinson says yes, Comeau wants him to force the province to prove that operating Belledune during peak winter hours will not result in even more emissions.
“It’s nowhere in the regulations,” she said. “We don’t have public details on how the plan would actually work.”
Other provinces, including Nova Scotia, have signed so-called equivalency agreements with Ottawa, but Comeau argues that they should not be seen as precedents for New Brunswick, as the need to reduce emissions is now more urgent than when they were signed.