policy in New Brunswick has been historically dominated by electricity
policy. In turn, electricity policy has been dominated by the twin
interests of industry in cheap power and N.B. Power’s institutional
agenda to develop its generation and transmission infrastructure to
serve export markets.
Economies of scale were attained by exploiting American electricity
markets, permitting the construction of power plants of a size that
otherwise could not be justified to serve New Brunswick alone. This,
combined with a strategy of importing inexpensive hydro power from
Québec for domestic purposes while exporting more expensive domestic
power, kept power rates very low compared to many other jurisdictions.
1980's ... conservation shelved
During the National Energy Program of the 1980's New Brunswick
established an Energy Secretariat to administer a federal-provincial
program to demonstrate and promote conservation and renewables. This was
canceled by the Mulroney government when it came to power, and the staff
were rolled into the Department of Natural Resources as its Energy
However, the tidal wave of public concern about the environment
that swept over society in the late 1980's saw the newly minted McKenna
government commit to establishing a provincial energy policy that was
environmentally sustainable. This followed closely on the heels of the
now-famous Toronto Conference on the Changing Atmosphere that had called
for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2005,
catapulting global warming into public and political consciousness.
Following the release of a discussion document, province-wide hearings
and recommendations from the Premier’s Round Table’s energy sectoral
group, the provincial government released a long-term energy policy. The
policy was based on increasing energy efficiency and conservation, while
expanding reliance on renewable and other alternative sources of energy.
A massive study into the potential for increasing energy efficiency
through all sectors of the economy and society was commissioned. It
translated the opportunities it identified into potential reductions in
greenhouse gases, acidifying emissions, and ozone-causing pollution. It
also presented its findings on the electricity side of things in terms
of how much new generating capacity could be avoided.
this relatively green energy policy was never implemented, leaving the
potential for dramatic gains in energy efficiencies, and consequent
reductions in energy demand, untapped.
The McKenna government agreed to N.B. Power’s plans of the late
1980's to construct a massive coal-fired power generating complex at
Belledune on the north shore, largely to serve the export markets. While
only one unit was ever built, those export markets failed to
materialize, while historical exports to the U.S. shriveled. This left
N.B. Power with a huge surplus of electricity that they would have to
sell in the New Brunswick market, reducing their purchases of Hydro
The provincial cabinet shelved its brand new energy policy for fear
that conservation and efficiency gains would only aggravate the surplus,
driving up power rates to pay for the new power plant at Belledune. Only
the Conservation Council argued that Belledune was unnecessary at the
time, an argument that formed the centerpiece of the environmental group’s
intervention at the environmental impact hearings into the Belledune
project. The group also pointed to the huge volumes of greenhouse gases
that would result from such a project.
The public debate about Belledune was largely restricted to the
politics of whether it should be sited in the south or the north, and
whether it should be forced to have scrubbers to remove the sulphur
dioxide from its emissions.
During this same period, New Brunswick, along with all of the other
provinces and Ottawa, began their annual consideration of what to do
about greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The 1988 Toronto Conference
had recommended a 20 percent reduction by 2005. Beginning in the fall of
that year, energy ministers met to consider this recommendation. A
number of studies were launched that showed dramatic savings would
accrue to the national economy by making the necessary gains in energy
efficiency and fuel switching to achieve the Toronto target. However,
within two years the Ministers rejected the Toronto target altogether.
1990's ... horse-trading measure
By this time (1990), Canada was well into the negotiations through
the United Nations to establish a Climate Change Convention. Discussions
among New Brunswick, the other provinces and Ottawa shifted their
attention on the climate change file to discuss Canada’s negotiating
position leading up to the Convention signing at the Earth Summit in
1992. It committed Canada and the other industrialized countries to
stabilizing their greenhouse gas emissions by 2000.
The following years
saw New Brunswick, their provincial colleagues and Ottawa wrangling over
how this should proceed, culminating in a multi-stakeholder process that
recommended various options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Governments only agreed to promoting voluntary measures, and plunged
back into international negotiations over the protocol to the
Convention, now known as the Kyoto Protocol.
Signed in 1997, the Kyoto
Protocol requires Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by
2012. Once again, a multi-stakeholder process was struck to recommend
options for attaining this goal. Only this time it was bigger and
costlier, but went through much of the same process of horse-trading
measures among the stakeholders and then submitting them to micro- and
New Brunswick has largely been absent from these multi-stakeholder
discussions. The responsibility for the issue remains in the
understaffed and poorly funded Energy Branch of the Department of
Natural Resources and Energy. With major reforms to be made to the
electric power sector and the arrival of natural gas, climate change has
received little direct attention by government.
The new Lord government
has committed to
bringing in its own energy policy by summer - without
public consultation. An inter-departmental committee has been struck to
draft recommendations to the cabinet. Presumably they will have to touch
on the implications of the proposed provincial energy policy to reducing
greenhouse gas emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol target has not been carved up and distributed
among the provinces, as the previous acid rain target had been. There
have been preliminary discussions about federal-provincial agreements to
pursue greenhouse gas emission reductions, but no money has as yet been
put on the table.
New Brunswick officials have made it clear that they
and their colleagues from the other provinces intend to delay any
decisions about how to proceed with greenhouse gas emissions until at
least next year.
More may become clear with the release of New Brunswick’s energy
policy this summer. However it is becoming increasingly apparent that
Canada as a whole will come no closer to achieving the Kyoto reductions
target than it did achieving the stabilization target established in the
original UN Convention that spawned it.