Commentary by Jim Emberger, Telegraph Journal, Dec. 16, 2020
“Distant hypothetical targets are being set, and big speeches are being given. Yet, when it comes to the immediate action we need, we are still in a state of complete denial.”
These are the recent words of young climate activist, Greta Thunberg, concerning progress toward dealing with the climate emergency. Unfortunately, she could be talking about NB Power’s recent release of its 20-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). While claiming to pay attention to the climate crisis, the utility’s plans belie those claims.
First, NB Power plans to extend the life of the coal burning Belledune electricity generator, one of the province’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide, to 2041: more than 10 years past its federally mandated closure.
To put this plan in context, progress reports submitted in preparation for next year’s climate summit show the gap between our actual greenhouse gas emissions and our stated targets continues to grow.
Simultaneously, a number of new climate models show that we potentially could pass the 1.5 C “minimally safe” increase in global temperature later this decade, and pass the more dangerous 2 C increase in the early 2030s. This prediction is bolstered by the announcement that, according to NASA, last month was the hottest November on record. What’s more, 2020 is likely to be the hottest year on record, a fitting conclusion to what will likely also be the hottest decade.
This should lead us to conclude that our future climate efforts must be even more rigorous. As the United Nations notes, the “world’s wealthy will need to reduce their carbon footprints,” which “will require swift and substantial lifestyle changes.”
By extending the Belledune plant, we will continue to pump large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere well after we’ve passed the likely point of no return on climate chaos. NB Power alleges that it can cut emissions elsewhere, but its claims are based on questionable assumptions, and it is hard to imagine where it can cut at the scale necessary.
For instance, emphasis is put on maintaining or increasing natural gas usage as a low carbon emission alternative, ignoring the now-accepted science that leaking methane emissions along the entire gas supply chain makes gas no better for the climate than coal.
The IRP also mentions that another low-carbon plan is to develop small modular nuclear reactors, a technology that currently exists only on paper. It faces hurdles of technology, safety, cost and procuring investment. But the salient point is that it will not likely be available until 2030, and later before it can be widely dispersed.
To sum up, as we face an already serious climate crisis that is due to significantly worsen in the next decade, NB Power’s plans are to continue to use a high-polluting, out-of-date technology for 20 years, and invest in a new technology that won’t become useful until after much climate damage has already occurred.
The IRP notes that proven, cheaper alternatives exist: namely renewable energy from sun and wind. Why aren’t they being pursued as the main pillars of our energy future?
The excuse that they are too intermittent becomes less viable with every passing day, as advances in energy storage are being made at a dizzying pace.
What’s more, our province has a unique opportunity to take part in the “Atlantic Loop,” a project that would bring stable and low or even no-carbon energy from hydro dams in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. In concert with renewables, our energy supply could be ample, stable and potentially exportable to New England.
Though questionable, NB Power’s plans are not as off-base as the advice offered in a recent op-ed (“Oil and gas are a missed opportunity for Atlantic Canada,” Dec. 7) penned by researchers with the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation which was created to promote the interests and reputation of the provincial oil and gas sector.
Its authors claim that now is the time for New Brunswick to start a natural gas and oil industry. This is strange advice coming from Alberta, a province where the oil and gas industry has plummeted – even before the pandemic – with huge losses of investment, industry bankruptcies, decimated tax and royalty payments, the loss of many thousands of jobs and a multi-billion dollar tab for oil and gas industry cleanup.
They assume that we will continue to use fossil fuels, despite the climate crisis. Therefore, they argue, it makes more economic sense to produce our own rather than buy from elsewhere. This argument that we ought to knowingly contribute to the looming climate crisis is bizarre, particularly given that so many scientists argue that any new fossil fuel project is an act of economic and environmental self-harm.
As people finally pay attention to scientists about COVID-19, one can only hope that this enlightened attitude will spill over to the much larger, and more dangerous, climate crisis.
The time for rhetoric about long-range goals and inadequate plans to achieve them is long past. As Greta Thunberg’s clear-headed logic indicates, we need reality-based action, and we need it now.
–Jim Emberger is the Spokesperson for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance.