Over the winter, I toured the province to better understand what barriers exist to expanding the use of renewable power in New Brunswick. A growing number of municipalities and First Nation communities are looking to utilize renewable sources of electricity. This would reduce the costs of their power bills, contribute to local economic development, and help reduce their carbon footprint.
During the tour, I met with mayors, councillors, municipal electric utility executives in Saint John, Perth-Andover and Edmundston, solar energy entrepreneurs, home builders and designers. I also made a point of visiting solar, wind and micro-hydro power facilities. I met willing buyers for renewable power, as well renewable energy developers and renewable energy investors.
Since then, Saint John Energy has tendered a contract to generate wind power themselves at a price much cheaper than it costs to purchase electricity from NB Power.
The potential for expanding the use of renewable power in New Brunswick currently rests on NB Power’s willingness to purchase power from local renewable power producers. They have done so in the past but have little interest in acquiring more renewable power. The future of renewable power in New Brunswick depends entirely on the willingness of NB Power to buy and re-sell that power. This has stopped the further development of renewable power, despite proposals from numerous municipalities throughout New Brunswick.
To address this barrier, I tabled a bill to make a small amendment to the Electricity Act that would allow municipalities and First Nation communities to buy electricity from community-based renewable power producers, paying NB Power for the use of their power lines. Unfortunately, my bill was defeated at the Legislature during the committee stage.
Another barrier to expanding the use of renewables is structural. Currently the only energy development group in the Department of Energy and Resource Development is mandated to develop petroleum resources, not renewable energy resources. It is essential that Minister Mike Holland establish a Renewable Energy Development division in his department.