By David Coon
There is the distinct feeling in our province that our economy is stuck in the mud. Efforts by various provincial governments to hit the gas pedal have only dug us deeper, burying us up to our axles. My grandfather used to be asked by sheepish young couples, who had parked in the nearby woods on romantic spring evenings, to get their vehicles out of the mud. He’d fire up his tractor, grab a tow chain, and easily haul them out of their predicament, never mentioning their encounter to the parents.
So what’s our economy’s tractor? I believe its green energy. Two of the top ten fastest growing industries in the United States are green building construction and renewable energy. As luck would have it, growth in both of these economic sectors will lower our dependence on oil, coal and natural gas to fight climate change. Just as with growth in other green industries such as the IT, clean tech and biosciences sectors we can create jobs and business opportunities while cranking down our dependence on fossil fuels.
To pursue these economic opportunities, we need to think about energy differently. We need it to provide heat, to transport us, and to generate energy. How much energy we need depends on the design of our appliances, homes and transportation system. The less energy we need, the more of it can be supplied by renewable sources.
What kind of business environment have governments created for the energy efficiency sector over the years? New Brunswick’s energy efficiency agency, Efficiency New Brunswick, which achieved much in its early years, was used as a political dumping ground by the Conservatives and then left to decay. The Liberals, rather than resurrecting Efficiency New Brunswick, killed it off for good and directed NB Power to establish insulation programs. The Provincial Building Code, which could be used to ignite green building construction, has been left to languish among a long list of legislation that was passed by the Legislative Assembly, but never implemented by either the Conservatives or the Liberals. And as for transportation, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, like his predecessor, maintains that public transportation is not his responsibility.
What about the business environment for the renewable energy sector? The former Conservative government abolished the renewable energy branch at the Department of Energy and Mines. Investment in renewable electricity development dried up when the Toires replaced the Electricity Act’s renewable electricity regulation with an impotent standard that has achieved nothing.
The momentum that had been building in the renewable energy sector was lost, businesses shifted their attention to Nova Scotia, and municipalities, coops and First Nations with renewable energy ventures were left in limbo. The new Liberal government has yet to demonstrate that it understands the true growth and job creation potential in this sector of our economy.
Initiatives to bring renewable fuels and electric vehicles to the transportation sector are virtually non-existent, despite the fact that considerable work is going on at UNB’s engineering faculty into the development of renewable fuels and NB Power is pursuing its smart grid. No effort has been made to move our heating sources to solar, bioenergy or geothermal.
The Liberal government of Brian Gallant has the opportunity to re-establish the early momentum around renewable electricity development with its own version of the renewable electricity regulation.
The public comment period on the draft Electricity from Renewable Resources Regulation just closed. However, without major changes, the target it sets for increasing our renewable electricity supply will largely be met by NB Power importing hydropower from outside of New Brunswick, limiting the job creation and economic growth potential of developing renewable electricity here at home.
We need a policy, a regulatory framework, and an institution that will encourage investment, entrepreneurship and innovation in the green building and renewable energy sectors. Renewable energy supplies for heating, transportation, as well as electric power represent an economic sector primed for growth. The same is true of green building construction in the residential, commercial, industrial and institutional sectors.
I propose we establish the Renew New Brunswick Commission, to cultivate and grow our green building and renewable energy sectors. It could oversee the development of the necessary policy, legislation and fiscal measures to drive growth and job creation in those sectors. And rapid growth in the green building and renewable energy sectors will necessarily drive more growth in our expanding IT, bioscience and clean tech sectors. It’s time to hitch our winch to green building construction and renewable energy development so that we finally pull our economy out of the mud.
David Coon is the leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and the MLA for Fredericton-South.