Co-operate to save jobs at Belledune

by Web Manager

Claude Richard | Commentary

As Published in the the Times Transcript, Telegraph Journal, & Daily Gleaner – December 23, 2021

The federal government has committed to closing down coal-fired operations across Canada by 2030

It is unfortunate the federal government has rejected what we saw as a

reasonable and responsible proposal to keep the Belledune Generating

Station operating past 2030. But since that is the decision, it is not without


The equivalency plan NB Power proposed would not have increased the

amount of carbon which Belledune emitted: It would have simply released

the same amount over a longer period of time. So, while the federal

government’s decision to reject that proposal may look more

environmentally responsible, in reality that’s not the case.

We understand that optics matter and the federal government wants to be

seen both here at home and globally as doing its part in meeting the

challenge of climate change. We agree. It is why we have been supportive

of NB Power’s initiatives over the years to lessen its carbon footprint. We

are proud NB Power was ahead of the curve when it installed scrubbers on

smokestacks to reduce emissions, developed incentives to reduce energy

consumption, and in more recent years embraced green energy

alternatives such as wind turbines and solar farms.

While these efforts continue, the core responsibility of NB Power remains

an uninterrupted supply of electricity at as reasonable a cost to

consumers as possible. That brings us back to Belledune.

For political purposes the decision has been made for Belledune to stop

burning coal. But of course, there are consequences which come from

that decision. They include job insecurity for hundreds of our members

and others, a serious economic hit for an area of the province that is

already struggling, and double-digit rate increases.

How do we mitigate these consequences? As serious as climate change is,

we still aren’t ready to give up a steady supply of heat in winter and air

conditioning in summer, and for that we need to replace or maintain

Belledune’s output.

What is needed is a better level of teamwork between the Higgs and

Trudeau governments. Initial responses are not encouraging, as they

seem more knee-jerk than co-operative. On one hand, we have the Higgs

government sending off a letter that seems to say, “OK, if you won’t let us

keep Belledune operating, then give us $5 billion to upgrade transmission

lines, so the province can connect to replacement power from

Newfoundland’s Muskrat Falls and Quebec.” This amount includes a

related request from Nova Scotia.

And the federal government’s immediate response: “No, no cheque for


In these initial responses we see shades of the ongoing tensions between

the Higgs and Trudeau governments. Behind the bravado and

gamesmanship though, there does seem to be agreement that the socalled

Atlantic loop transmission line is a project worth discussing. So

hopefully, once both sides get past their public posturing, some serious

negotiations will take place that consider how to make the Atlantic Loop a


But this project alone would not be enough to replace the current output

of Belledune. We are calling on both levels of government to include other

low-carbon energy alternatives in their negotiations, with strong

consideration for small modular reactors (SMRs) and a hydrogen

production facility.

There is an opportunity here to be in the forefront of green energy

innovation. A recent study by the Nova Scotia Offshore Energy Research

Association noted the Atlantic region is well suited for hydrogen

production, especially if it makes use of existing infrastructure like the

Belledune Generating Station and Port of Belledune. Building these

facilities at Belledune would line up with the federal government’s SMR

road map, and its recently announced hydrogen strategy for Canada.

It would also make use of the highly skilled workforce that would

otherwise be lost when the Belledune plant closes.

and NB Power to collaborate in a way that meets three

The first steps though, are a commitment from both levels of government

criteria: A responsibility to the workforce, to the Chaleur region, and to

ratepayers who need reliable power at an affordable price.

The union stands ready to work with those willing to achieve these goals.

Claude Richard is the business manager of the International

Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 37, which includes NB Power