NB Power has not included the costs of small nuclear reactors in its latest plan because it doesn’t want to pay too high a price to the private companies developing them, says a top official.
Brad Coady, the public utility’s vice president of business development, told New Brunswick politicians on Thursday he could not publicly divulge the estimates his team has formulated for two projects envisioned by ARC and Moltex at Point Lepreau because it would not be good business practice.
He was under pressure from Green MLA Megan Mitton, who referenced a consultant’s report from E3 that said wind and solar would be less than half the price of small modular reactors.
“We didn’t think it would be responsible to identify the price we’d be willing to pay to the developer,” Coady told the legislature’s standing committee on climate change. “To say it in simple terms, NB Power will be the buyer of that energy capacity on behalf of New Brunswickers, and to tell the seller of that what we’d be willing to pay, is not really good business practice.”
The utility is under pressure because to hit climate change targets, it must eventually close or convert generating stations at Belledune, which uses coal, Bayside, a natural gas burner, and Coleson Cove, which runs on oil. At the same time, electricity use is expected to go up.
The NB Power executive pushed back against arguments that the utility would be better to go with far more wind, solar and battery backup power, saying nuclear power would provide the consistent energy required, with backup from hydro stations such as Mactaquac.
Earlier in the day, Moe Qureshi of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick recommended that the province add far more renewable energy sources with wind as a primary objective. Qureshi, who has a PhD in chemistry, has already released his own findings that during New Brunswick’s heaviest day for electrical usage in history, during a cold snap on Feb. 4 when the wind chill made it feel colder than -40C, enough wind was blowing in other parts of Atlantic Canada and New England to help supply the local grid.
He said it was true that wind turbines weren’t turning in New Brunswick that frigid morning when NB Power fired up all its generators, but he said some of it was over maintenance issues, not a lack of wind.
As it stands, NB Power has about 3,800 megawatts of capacity, enough to cover all the homes and businesses that need electricity during peak loads in winter and enough excess capacity to sell to other markets when the needs are less, particularly during summer.
Qureshi recommends that along with the 300 megawatts of wind and solar energy the utility has planned to bring online by 2027, it should also create 100 mw extra every year up to 2035, so that New Brunswick can increase electrification and get away from burning dirty fossil fuels such as coal and oil that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.
He said survey after survey had shown that New Brunswickers would prefer renewable energy as long as it's at an affordable cost.
“What I want to stress is these renewable technologies are getting cheaper and better every single year,” he said, adding that interconnections with other provinces and American states could shore up the province’s needs on non-windy or cloudy days.
He argued that small nuclear reactors were coming online too slowly to quickly address the threat of climate change. ARC says its reactor won’t be ready till close to 2030, and Moltex estimates it will go online a few years later.
“When you go to the doctor, and the doctor says, ‘hey, you have lung cancer, you need to stop smoking,’ do you stop smoking today or do you stop smoking 10 years from now? So I think it’s important that we start addressing these problems today and start implementing some of these solar and wind projects, coupled with storage, sooner rather than later.”
But Coady had a very different viewpoint. He said utility officials had to balance the low price of wind energy with the risk of having enough energy when New Brunswickers need it.
He warned that the utility’s modelling showed that one-third of the province would be without power, with rotating blackouts, for four to five days a year if it went full-bore on wind.
“Is it fair for us to count on wind energy when New Brunswickers need it? Is it OK to run our economy and lives on windy days and don’t do anything on non-windy days? That’s not a reasonable outcome and that’s kind of how we think of risk management.
“We can’t have all our eggs in one basket.”
John Chilibeck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Gleaner