Submission to the Select Legislative Committee on Climate Change

Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group

August 19, 2016

The Sustainable Energy Group (SEG) is grateful for the opportunity to meet with the Select Committee on Climate Change. SEG was established in 2004 as a nonprofit organization for the purpose of raising public awareness about renewable and environmentally sustainable options in energy production, distribution and use.

SEG was formed to address the concern that people – us included – were living in a manner that was unsustainable and threatened the wellbeing of future generations. The following statement from SEG’s first brochure in 2004 continues to be true: “Today’s dual realities of global warming and the rising costs of dwindling natural resources are challenging us to seriously harness alternative renewable energy resources that cause little or no damage to the environment.”

Members of SEG were well aware that the ‘good life’ people expect was coming with a high environmental price tag, and that this problem had been identified over 60 years ago. On June 20, 1957, the Sentinel Press (Woodstock) published an article that started with the question; “Are We Tampering With Our Climate?” That was an early admission that human activity may indeed be affecting the climate, and yet it has taken six decades for the world to start taking any meaningful action to curtail this problem. It is now clear that what we have been thinking of as progress and growth do not come without a price, and that climate change from uncontrolled resource development and use may be the heaviest price of all.

Today, in 2016, the world is facing the dangerous consequence of runaway climate change that humans cannot control. Global warming has reached the stage where polar ice is rapidly melting, oceans are warming and rising, droughts, floods and other severe weather events are increasing. The associated costs of these events are incalculable.

These negative impacts could have been averted had government and business leaders taken seriously the warnings of scientists decades ago that continuing business as usual would lead to environmental, economic, and social disaster. But, instead, the unrestricted mining and burning of coal and hydrocarbons has brought us to the precipice of climate catastrophe.

It now appears that some government and industry leaders are, at last, taking the reality of our situation seriously. It boggles the mind, however, that others seem determined to continue ramping up the oil and gas industry for as long as they can. Clearly, this cannot continue in order to have any possibility of moderating the high price that climate change is on track to extract from our economy and society.

Fortunately, the Select Committee on Climate Change is a positive sign that political leadership in New Brunswick is determined to focus on this crisis and do its part to reduce the risk of this high stakes situation. To have any chance of averting the worst consequences of climate change, a dramatic shift into a renewable energy future must be the highest priority of government, industry and society.

Virtually all the policy and action ideas we might offer have been well articulated in the submission being made by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, and even, to a certain extent, appear in the government Discussion Guide on climate change action. Our contribution here will be to add extra emphasis to three areas of policy and action that SEG regards as of the highest priority, and on which we have made repeated submissions to government and NB Power.

Efficiency

The cheapest and most sustainable energy is the energy that we don’t use. Efficiency is widely recognised as the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in any sustainable energy system. The Maritimes can leverage the federal government’s offer of sustainable infrastructure and transportation funding to prioritise building insulation, electrical efficiency, and public transport for demand-reduction administered through provincial energy-efficiency agencies.  – Charlottetown Initiative – Maritime Sustainable Energy Transition

Upgrading the energy efficiency of all building stock – residential, commercial, institutional, and civic – is the one of the best investments in the future we can make, both for GHG reductions and cost savings. This has been proven over and over again.

Energy Efficiency NB was, at one time, the flagship program of its kind in Canada. It should be made so again. Although this program has now been folded into the administration of NB Power, it should be again moved to the head of NB’s climate action strategy.

Improving the efficiency of all buildings to the highest possible standard – starting with low-income housing – will substantially lower operational costs for years to come, reduce GHG emissions, and create good quality, much needed jobs.

The Charlottetown Initiative, meeting in PEI in February 2016 and composed of representatives from the business, academia, and civil society, established ambitious energy efficiency targets for all buildings: “Reduce the total primary energy consumption of buildings by 80% by 2050, with an intermediate target of 20% reduction in primary energy consumption levels by 2025.”

NB Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (2014) states: “The potential energy savings available to New Brunswick homes, businesses and institutions as a result of actions to improve energy efficiency in our electricity system have been estimated by NB Power to be equivalent to about 609 MW, representing about 14 per cent of our current electricity generation capacity.”

SEG regards upgrading the Energy Efficiency Program at NB Power as the most important immediate step government can take to make a genuine commitment to a climate action plan. By “upgrading” we mean to change the program from passive access to recruitment access. Rather than a program that waits for people to come to it seeking information, it should be changed into a program that actively and systematically seeks out candidates for its services.

The Energy Efficiency Program should be revamped to include a major education and outreach component. The program’s capacity for response should be much improved, and its funding increased to match a greatly expanded annual target of completed energy efficiency projects. At the moment the Low Income Energy Savings Program cautions that applicants can expect an 18-month wait time for response. This is not acceptable. This does not indicate a program that is being given a high priority.

SEG urges that in line with a high priority response by government to climate change action, NB Power’s Energy Efficiency Program be mandated to a much higher priority. Carbon tax funds could provide energy efficiency funding.

Distributed Generation

In 2011, SEG prepared and presented a sixteen-page submission for the then current Energy Policy Commission in which we made a strong case for the transition to a distributed generation electrical system. We argued that innovations in small and intermediate renewable energy technology will rapidly displace the large scale, central generation of electrical power, and that for both environmental and cost savings reasons NB should make every effort to get on the forefront of this transition.

The report of the Energy Policy Commission did not pick up on our argument and did not advance distributed generation as a significant component of NB’s energy future. Yet, only five years later, renewable energy technology has developed to such an extent that NB Power now clearly recognizes the transition that is underway and is incorporating distributed generation into its planning.

For this submission to the Select Committee on Climate Change, we can only reiterate that taking maximum advantage of renewable energy’s potential for building out a distributed generation system should be a major component of NB’s climate action strategy.

This is true not only for reasons of reducing GHG emissions, but for reasons of security of service in the face of what is now forecast to be increasingly turbulent weather conditions as climate change effects become more pronounced.

In addition, it has also been well documented that building out a distributed generation system would bring a significant increase in good quality employment. Building out a distributed generation, renewable energy system is an economic development opportunity waiting to be realized.

SEG has been in conversation with NB Power on various occasions about managing the transition to a distributed generation system. We understand that the implications for NB Power’s business model are challenging. But the renewable energy transition is moving even faster than SEG anticipated five years ago. We are encouraged that the leadership of NB Power clearly understands the potential of renewable energy technology and is progressive in its attitude toward distributed generation.

The Locally-Owned Renewable Energy Small Scale (LORESS) program is a step in this direction, but it is heavily constrained by NB Power’s effort to manage the scale and speed of distributed generation development in relation to its business model and administrative costs. Unfortunately, NB Power is saddled with a number of hangover technologies and an administrative cost structure that creates a drag effect on its ability to optimize the opportunities of renewable energy and distributed generation technology. However, in its defense, the Power Commission is not resisting renewable energy and distributed generation as are some utilities in other jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, we urge that the Select Committee on Climate Change work toward a government mandate for NB Power that moves the development of distributed generation into a high priority. This would measurably serve NB’s climate change strategy, its energy security environment, and its job creation goals.

Financing Energy Efficiency and Distributed Generation Development

For the past six years, SEG has taken every opportunity to advocate with government for a specific, practical financing arrangement for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations. Known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), this financing program is key to a sustainable energy future and should be a central component in NB’s climate action strategy.

PACE programs allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations through additional assessment on their property tax bill over an appropriate extended period. There is no upfront cost. Investment is immediately cash-flow positive due to energy cost savings. If the property is sold, the benefit and tax assessment pass with the property to the new owner.

The PACE concept and first programs originated in the Yukon. PACE programs are now functioning effectively in Toronto and Halifax, and many other jurisdictions. PACE programs now operate in the municipalities of 34 US states.

PACE programs overcome two barriers to making energy efficiency upgrades and installing renewable energy equipment – a) large upfront costs and b) investment recovery if property is sold.

NB might consider setting up PACE as a provincial program, or as municipal programs with a provincial program for areas where there is no municipal government. In any case, the steps in establishing a PACE program are generally the same:

  1. government passes enabling legislation;
  2. the jurisdiction designs programs and selects program administrator;
  3. the jurisdiction raises funding through the issuances of bonds or through agreements with private lenders;
  4. the jurisdiction markets the program through pre-qualified service providers;
  5. property owners develop a retrofit and/or renewable energy installation plan and apply for special assessment;
  6. work completed and assessment payments added to the property tax bill.

PACE programs have been proven in use. They are relatively easy to set up and administer with minimal cost to government. They are job creators, and economic development stimulators. And, in the context of this submission, effectively advance the implementation of NB’s climate action strategy.

We have been told in conversation with representatives of NB Power that the Commission is considering an in-house financing program that would function like a PACE program, but be attached to a property owner’s electric bill. This is an interesting idea, but it seems unlikely that an in-house program administered by NB Power would reach the scale and scope of what could be achieved by fully developed provincial and municipal PACE programs.

A search of the NB Power website gives no indication they have launched an energy efficiency and renewable energy financing program.

SEG urges the Select Committee on Climate Change to put a fully developed PACE program on the table for government action.

Conclusion

Although many other policy frameworks and programs of action need to included in NB’s approach to climate change mitigation, SEG has limited this presentation to three that, in our view, should be given the highest priority:

  • support for energy efficiency upgrading and renewable energy installations,
  • support for building up a renewable energy based, distributed generation, provincial electricity system,
  • support for the province-wide implementation of a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program.

Prepared by Sam Arnold (Coordinator) and Keith Helmuth

for the Sustainable Energy Group, Woodstock NB

Contact: Samuel Arnold samarnold3@gmail.com

Submission to the NB Power Commission on the Future of Mactaquac Dam

Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group, May 29, 2016

Introduction

From the time NB Power made the announcement in 2013 that the Mactaquac generating station will become unusable by 2030, the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group (SEG) has been following the research and the decision making process on the future of the dam. In addition, Transition Town Woodstock (TTW), of which SEG is a project, has taken a lead role in hosting information forums on the future of the dam in our home community.

Between May of 2014 and March of 2016, TTW hosted three Public Forums at the Woodstock campus of New Brunswick Community College, one with Gordon Yamazaki concerning the biophysical research on the river system above the dam, and two with George Porter and Deborah Nobes on the overall nature of the problem with the dam and on the process of decision making on the dam’s future. These Forums have been well attended with significant audience participation during question and discussion times.

We have published information commentaries in the Woodstock Bugle-Observer and we have encouraged citizens to access the Mactaquac Project website for more information and to complete the public participation survey.

SEG’s Orientation on Energy Planning

SEG’s role in facilitating public engagement with the NB Power’s Mactaquac Project stems from its commitment to advancing the transition to renewable energy. Representatives of SEG have held discussions with senior staff of the Power Commission on several occasions with regard to integrating the whole menu of renewable energy technologies now available into an energy transition plan for New Brunswick. SEG was invited by the Power Commission to participate in a stakeholder engagement session on long-term energy planning.

In 2011, SEG prepared a sixteen-page submission for the Energy Policy Commission that was appointed by government to develop a 10-year energy-planning scenario. SEG’s submission proposed that a 30-year planning timeline be established in order to adequately take into account the full impact of the innovations in renewable energy that are rapidly developing. Our submission laid out a planning scenario for New Brunswick’s transition to a highly secure, distributed generation and smart grid electrical power system based on renewable energy technology. Our submission included elements of a financing strategy that has been proven to work well in other jurisdictions.

In the five years since we made this submission, the speed with which renewable energy technology has penetrated the field, and the rate at which its comparative costs are falling, has confirmed SEG’s view of energy planning for New Brunswick.

Public Engagement on the Future of Mactaquac Dam

SEG has been studying the problem of Mactaquac dam within this context for the last three years. Considering that the dam is a source of renewable energy, rebuilding the generating station seems like a logical decision. We have heard people in our region describe this decision as a “no-brainer.” Some people think it should be viewed as simply an engineering and energy supply problem and a decision should be made accordingly.

We are grateful that leadership within the NB Power understands there is a wider and more complex context of factors involved, and that they have allowed time for citizen consideration and engagement in the decision making process.

Some people in our region think the public engagement process is a sham, and the Power Commission is just setting the stage for a decision already made. We have argued against this view. We accept the public engagement process as a genuine effort to make a decision that takes all pertinent factors into account – energy planning, ecological integrity, economics and finance, and social and cultural values. Otherwise, the millions of dollars spent on biophysical and sociocultural research and on alternative option engineering studies makes no sense.

Members of SEG have attempted to consider all the factors involved with a decision on the future of the dam. However, we have been somewhat hampered in our deliberations by not having up-to-date cost estimates for each of the three options being proposed by the Power Commission. We have asked as recently as March 29th of this year for at least “ballpark” estimates on comparative costs, but were told this information was not available for release.

Cost Estimates on Decision Options

We assume that by this time the Mactaquac Project has definite cost estimates on the three options proposed, but for some reason is unwilling to release them. We recall that at the beginning of this process the estimate for reconfiguring the dam and replacing the generating station was put in the range 3 to 5 billion dollars.

We think it fair to assume the estimate has now gone higher, and this, perhaps, is the reason the figures are being withheld. If so, this is unfortunate because it compromises public engagement and makes it difficult for a citizen’s group like SEG to make a fully informed contribution to the deliberations. With all this in mind, however, members of SEG have come to a point where we can offer the following observations and considerations.

Three Primary Considerations

First, retaining the dam and building a new generating station appears to be the most expensive option. By the time a new generating station would be up and running in 2030, other forms of renewable energy technology will have certainly made huge advances in application, efficiency, and cost reduction. 

Can an investment of billions of dollars be economically justified when by 2030 other renewable energy systems will be able to produce the equivalent power at a fraction of the cost?

Another way to look at this is to ask: “Would it make economic sense to build Mactaquac dam today if we were starting fresh?” The answer is almost certainly “No.”

From the rapidly mounting evidence, it is now increasingly clear that widespread, medium and small-scale renewable electricity generation hooked up through an interactive smart grid is the wave of the future. From our conversations with NB Power personnel, we know the Commission understands the implications of this trajectory, and what its impact will be on the business models for generating and distributing electricity.

Given these circumstances and the rate of innovation in the field, it is hard to see how retaining the dam and building a new generating station makes sense from a financial investment point of view. 

Second, if the generating station is not replaced, should NB Power spend billions refurbishing and then maintaining the dam in perpetuity for the recreational benefit of keeping the headpond in place? Those who have homes and boats on the headpond, those with real estate holdings on the headpond on which they hope to capitalize, and a small group of bass fishermen would like to see it retained. But should the citizens of NB, either as ratepayers or as taxpayers, foot the bill for refurbishing the dam and maintaining this amenity for their benefit? How could such an inequitable arrangement be justified?

We have heard the question raised as to whether controlling the river flow in flood times is a sufficient rationale for retaining the dam. Again, we have to ask whether building such a dam for this purpose would now be under taken? From an investment point of view, the answer is almost certainly no. The history of Mactaquac dam as a flood control facility has not been a matter of preventing floods but a question of who gets flooded and to what extent. Rivers in this part of the world naturally flood with each spring breakup. Human settlements on floodplains have to prepare to deal with this.

We also understand that the sewage treatment facilities at Woodstock and Nackawic have been designed and built within the context of the current headpond water level, and that if the water level were lower they would have to be modified. Again, this seems an insufficient reason for retaining the headpond. Readapting sewage treatment facilities would be a onetime expense and, under the circumstances, municipalities should be provided with subsidies by NB Power and/or government to handle the changeover.

Third, if the dam is taken out and the St. John River returns to its original channel, will it once again become the beautiful and bountiful river it once was? Will the salmon return? There is some question about this. With climate change, NB rivers are becoming warmer and salmon need cold water. 

But again, they might show up. Breaking news is encouraging; after habitat restoration, salmon have now returned to the Connecticut River system and are spawning for the first time in 200 years. The Connecticut is certainly warmer than the St. John. So there’s a reasonable hope that the salmon would come back and an economic and cultural resource of the central valley region would begin to be restored.

The Mactaquac Project website shows that if the dam were taken out, 13,000 acres of land would again be available for human and wildlife use. Some of this land is the best agricultural land in the province and would again be available. Studies show that the river’s islands and intervals under the headpond have not eroded away. They are pretty much intact.

Experience with dam removal elsewhere shows that the newly exposed land is rapidly reclaimed by vegetation. Within a year grass cover appears and the plant succession back to rich wetlands or woodlands steadily proceeds. This reclaimed land would be a good set up for the careful management of highly productive agricultural and woodland environments with accompanying livelihood and job creation potential. 

Taking out the dam would be an important biophysical and geographic experiment. It seems reasonable to expect that the long-term benefits of a restored river valley would steadily accrue over time and would become a major economic and cultural success story. It would certainly be a major transition of great scientific interest.

Taking out the dam will also be enormously expensive, but the investment would at least be offset by the long-term economic potential of a restored river valley. Dams have a life expectancy. If rebuilt, another generation will have to deal with this question all over again. Why not make the best long-term decision now?

A Fourth Option

We understand that NB Power has subsequently added a fourth option to the original three for dealing with the problem of the generating station. This involves the possibility of replacing the existing facility section by section rather than building a new structure at a new location. We further understand from a recent communication that this option has now been deemed unfeasible, but that a possibility still exists of replacing the mechanical components of the generating units with technology that would extend the functional life of the current facility.

At stakeholders meeting organized by NB Power on May 17, we learned that recent research on the integrity of the dam’s powerhouse indicates that structural reinforcement may also be possible, which together with mechanical component reconfiguration may extend the generating capacity of the facility longer than previously expected.

If this option is technically feasible, the question remains at what investment cost compared to other renewable energy alternatives. And if this option will only postpone the eventual shutting down of the facility, is it a smart option considering that the business case for large central generating facilities is rapidly disappearing?

A Fifth Option?

In SEG’s deliberations on energy planning and the future of the St. John River, we have discussed whether the dam and generating station might be reconstructed at a lower level and smaller scale? This option has several potentially attractive features:

  1. the continued production of renewable energy;
  2. a facility scaled to provide local and regional electricity service within a distributed generating system;
  3. the ability to repower the grid in recovery from a system shut down;
  4. the opportunity to install an effective fish passage;
  5. the recovery and restoration of prime agricultural land in the upper half of the valley region now flooded;
  6. reducing the length of the low-oxygen, warm water zone through which migratory fish must travel;
  7. the retention of a headpond in the area where the associated home owner and recreational factors are most significant.

It may be that the economics of rebuilding Mactaquac dam and generating station at any scale makes no sense when plotted against the speed of renewable energy innovation and its falling costs, but we are interested in knowing if consideration may have been given to this option.

Summing Up

Although the decommissioning and removal of Mactaquac dam may appear to be a premature loss, it can be seen in a broader perspective as the end of the era when central generation and long distance transmission of electricity was regarded as progressive. The rate of innovation in energy technology is bringing the era of big dams and central generation to an end. The removal of Mactaquac dam can be seen as a truly progressive step from the standpoint of long-term energy service planning.

In addition, the restoration of environments previously damaged by industrial usage is now also on the forefront of progressive civic and economic planning. It seems likely that the restoration of the St. John River Valley between Mactaquac and Woodstock could be promoted, and would be heralded, as a truly progressive development for New Brunswick.

With respect to its legislated mandate and with respect to increasing resilience and insuring security of service, the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group urges NB Power to create a business model, as rapidly as it can, for promoting and facilitating the transition to a distributed generation electricity system for New Brunswick. We understand implementing this kind of planning may require the temporary sourcing of hydropower from Quebec or Labrador.

Submitted by the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group

May 29, 2016

Sam Arnold (Coordinator) Conrad Anderson, Allison Connell, Peter Caverhill, Lillian Warne, Nancy Lovely, Keith Helmuth

All Candidates Public Forum for Municipal Election

Transition Town Woodstock New Release for Friday April 22, 2016

By Sam Arnold

With the municipal election coming up on May 9th, Transition Town Woodstock (TTW) is hosting an All Candidates Public Forum. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 26th beginning at 7 PM at the Community Y.

All six members of the current Town Council are reoffering and three additional candidates are standing for election. The first hour of the Public Forum will be devoted to short talks by each candidate. The second half of the evening will be an informal meet and greet time in which voters will be able to speak directly with candidates, sharing concerns and asking questions that may be on their minds.

The candidates have been asked to speak on why they are interested in being part of the municipal government, and on the issues they see as important for making Woodstock a more attractive and thriving town. Specifically, they have also been asked by TTW to address the role Woodstock can play in helping to tackle the climate change problem.

Tackling the climate change problem is a provincial and national issue with various carbon reduction strategies underway. Municipal governments have a role to play in this united effort by developing and implementing smart energy strategies.

Woodstock has already taken the step of joining the QUEST NB Caucus, which is working to provide guidance on smart energy strategies for municipalities that will help mitigate climate change. See http://www.questcanada.org/our-network/caucus/nb

In addition, the NB Power Commission now has a subsidy program to help municipalities develop renewable energy projects.

There is a lot municipalities can now do to help move toward a secure, clean energy Future. The All Candidates Public Forum will be an opportunity to discuss Woodstock’s energy strategy along with other important issues for the town.

Mactaquac Dam Hanging in the Balance

This posting is from the Energy Futures column in the Woodstock Bugle-Observer.
It was published on March, 16th, 2016.

By Keith Helmuth

The time is fast approaching when the NB Power Commission will make a decision on the future of the Mactaquac Dam. In 2013 they announced that the generating station was deteriorating to the point that it would not be useable beyond 2030, and that a decision on what to with it would have to be made in 2016.

During the last year, the Power Commission has conducted wide ranging public interest consultations on three options of what to do, and has solicited the thinking and advice of anyone interested in being part of the deliberations. March 31st brings this open consultation period to a close, after which the gears of decision-making start to turn in earnest.

So all those in the region who have something they want to say about what should happen to Mactaquac dam and headpond, should go to this website and make their contribution before May 31st. http://www.mactaquac.ca/

If you don’t know about what is going on with the dam and why it has become a big problem, this is also the website that will put you in the picture.

In brief, this is what is facing NB Power and the provincial government. The dam and generating station was projected to last 100 years when it was built in the late 1960s, but will now remain operational for only about 60 years. What to do? This is a royal headache. Whatever is done will end up costing billions of dollars. Here are the three options that NB Power has on the table.

take out the dam, return the St. John River to its original channel, and replace the lost generating capacity from other sources;

take out the generating station, replace its capacity from other sources, but keep the dam and headpond in place ;

retain the dam and rebuild the generating station.

What should the province do? The final decision will be by government. Here are some points to consider:

First, retaining the dam and rebuilding the generating station is the most expensive option. Hydro-power qualifies as renewable energy, but by the time the facility is rebuilt, other forms of renewable energy are likely to have made huge advances in efficiency and cost reduction.

Widespread, medium and small-scale renewable electricity generation hooked up through a smart grid is the wave of the future. For example, in the news this morning is a report that the third largest airport in India is now powered 100% by solar electricity. NB Power understands this is what is happening and is hard at work figuring out how to evolve into this new energy future. So we’ve got to ask the question, is rebuilding the dam and generating station a wise investment?

Second, if the generating station is not rebuilt, should NB Power, or the province (taxpayers), sustain the cost of refurbishing and then maintaining the dam for the benefit of keeping the headpond in place? Those who have now built homes on the banks of the headpond would like to see it retained, but should NB Power or NB taxpayers foot the on-going bill for this amenity?

Third, if the dam is taken out and the St. John River returns to its original channel, will it become once again the beautiful and bountiful river it once was? Will the salmon return? There is some question about this. With climate change, the water temperature of NB rivers is rising and salmon need cold water.

But again, they might show up. More breaking news is encouraging; salmon have now returned to the Connecticut River for spawning for the first time in 200 years, and the Connecticut has got to be warmer than the St. John. So there’s a reasonable hope that the salmon would come back. Imagine, the Hartland salmon pool alive with fish and fishermen again. It could happen.

If the dam were taken out, over 13,000 hectares of land would again be available for human and wildlife use. Some of this land was the best agricultural land in the province and would be again. Studies show that the river’s islands and intervals have not eroded away. They are pretty much intact under the headpond.

Experience with dam removal elsewhere shows that the newly exposed land is rapidly reclaimed by vegetation. Within a year grass cover appears and the plant succession back to rich wetlands or woodlands steadily proceeds. This reclaimed ground could be a good set up for the careful management of highly productive agricultural and woodland environments with accompanying livelihood and job creation.

It would be a big experiment. We can’t know for sure how it would work out, but the long-term benefits of a restored river valley might be even more than we can imagine. It would certainly be a major transition of great scientific interest.

(Transition Town Woodstock held a Public Forum on the future of Mactaquac dam at NB Community College in Woodstock on March 29th. The Director of the Mactaquac Project, George Porter, provided an update and lead a discussion. This event helped us all engage in a major decision-making process on an issue of great public interest.)

Public Forum on the Mactaquac Dam Decision

Transition Town Woodstock will host its third Public Forum on the future of the Mactaquac dam on March 29th at NB Community College in Woodstock. The meeting will begin at 7 PM in the teaching theatre on the second floor.

George Porter and Deborah Nobes from the NB Power Commission will provide the latest information on the decision-making process on the future of the Mactaquac dam. Porter is the Director of the Mactaquac Dam Project. Nobes is Director of Communications for NB Power.

In 2013, NB Power announced that the deteriorating structure of the Mactaquac dam will make the generating station unusable by 2030, and that a decision about what to do with the dam has to be made in 2016. The Power Commission has proposed three options:

take out the dam, return the St. John River to its original channel, and replace the lost generating capacity from other sources;

take out the generating station, replace its capacity from other sources, but keep the dam and headpond in place ;

retain the dam and rebuild the generating station.

Since 2013, biological and engineering studies have been conducted in preparation for a decision on the future of the dam. In addition, NB Power has been holding various levels of public interest consultations. The financial implications for NB Power and the province are a major concern.

In May of 2014, TTW hosted a Public Forum with Gordon Yamazaki, head of the research team, studying the physical and biological condition of the St. John River above the dam. In November of 2014 the Forum hosted George Porter and Deborah Nobes for a report and discussion on the Power Commission’s decision-making process on the future of the dam.

The return of Porter and Nobes on March 29 will be an opportunity for citizens of the region to receive a direct update and have further discussion on the decision-making process that will determine the future of the dam and headpond region.

Transition Town Forums are organized to advance citizen participation on concerns of public interest for the Woodstock region and for the province. Forums are held without charge. Donations are appreciated to help cover the NBCC rental cost.

Handling Government Debt: The Public Bank Alternative

This posting is from the Energy Futures column in the Woodstock Bugle-Observer.
It was published on February, 4th, 2016.

By Keith Helmuth

The current government of New Brunswick is attempting to manage the provincial debt in two ways: cutting expenditures and increasing taxes.

Neither of these approaches is likely to offer a solution to the problem of the province’s externally held debt. It is difficult to see how cutting expenditures and increasing taxes can be employed on a scale that effectively addresses this problem.

What about economic growth? Despite the efforts of the current government and the one before it to boost growth, is there any good reason to think an economic boom will soon provide government with the means needed to reduce and eliminate the externally held provincial debt?

At most, the annual deficit may be reduced. The debt will remain. But, if this externally held debt is not eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, government will remain at the mercy of the bond rating agencies and continue to send millions of taxpayer’s dollars out of the province in interest payments – millions of dollars that could and should be used in NB.

Is this externally held debt a permanent feature of government? Under current fiscal arrangements, this seems to be the case. A perpetual flow of interest payments to the commercial financial industry is the logical result of the way the current monetary system is structured.

But shouldn’t a responsible government wish to eliminate externally held debt, or at least significantly reduce it? Shouldn’t it wish to keep its tax revenue circulating within its own jurisdiction for the benefit of the public interest?

If so, then why is the NB government borrowing from the commercial financial industry? And why is the government of Canada doing the same? It’s not that the private financial industry is the only source of credit.

For example, from 1938 to 1974, the government of Canada borrowed at low to zero interest rates from its own bank – the Bank of Canada. This in-house banking arrangement helped address the Great Depression, finance Canada’s participation in World War Two, benefit provinces and municipalities, and create postwar prosperity.

Why then are governments now in debt to the private financial industry? The answer to this question is in the history of federal government policy and the sidelining of the Bank of Canada since 1974. (See https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/borrowing-trouble)

Is there any intrinsic or inevitable reason for governments to borrow from the private, for-profit financial system? The answer is, “No.” How can governments get clear of externally held debt?  The answer is – public banking. 

The public banking alternative for public fiscal management is well understood and is increasingly being put into place in various jurisdictions worldwide. For Canada, it would entail the restoration of the Bank of Canada to its original role. Or, for NB, it could be the establishment of a public, provincial bank.

In brief, public banking works like this: Government establishes a public bank for the purpose of receiving all government revenue, making all government disbursements, and handling all government financial arrangements, including borrowing for deficit financing when needed. Interest on borrowed money remains within the jurisdiction of the bank and, after covering administrative costs, is returned to government as a dividend.

The public banking alternative offers government a way to stop the loss of public money by reducing and eliminating its indebtedness to the private financial system. The public banking alternative offers government a secure way of conducting all its financial activities, including borrowing when needed, within the framework of a public trust institution operated in the public interest. (See http://www.publicbankinginstitute.org/ )

A public bank is like a credit union for the government. The government owns the public bank in the same way members own their credit union. In both cases the sole purpose of the institution is to serve its owners. In the case of the credit union, it serves the personal interests of its member-owners. In the case of the public bank, it serves the public interests of its government-owner.

To make the case concrete, consider the state of North Dakota, which established a public bank in 1919 to handle all government finances. A century later it remains a singular success story in the field of public banking. Due to its public bank, North Dakota was the only state in the US not adversely affected by the 2008-2010 financial crisis.

North Dakota and New Brunswick have the same size populations and both struggle with downscale economies. The big difference is that the government of North Dakota is in complete control of its fiscal affairs. It carries no external debt load that requires sending tax dollars to the private financial industry.

With a public bank, the government of NB could begin to eliminate external debt, recoup millions of tax dollars for provincial use, and start down the road toward fiscal stability. A public bank is not a silver bullet, but it would be an effective tool for upgrading and advancing government stewardship of the public purse.

Keith Helmuth is member of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group

New Date – TTW Forum Screens Award Winning Film – Revolution

Please Note: The film was not shown on February 21st due to technical issues. The problem has been resolved and the screening has been rescheduled for March 1st.

A Public Forum hosted by Transition Town Woodstock will be screening Rob Stewart’s award winning film, Revolution, on March 1st at 7pm at the Community College.

Revolution is not about overthrowing anything; it’s about waking up to the reality of how the planet actually works to sustain life, and about what people around the world are doing to rescue humanity from destroying Earth’s ecosystems.

Rob Stewart is a Canadian filmmaker who has been widely praised for his 2007 documentary, Sharkwater. In 2012 he published a book titled, Save the Humans.

Revolution, has already won seven awards and is regarded as one of the best films ever made about Earth’s great web of life, and about the uprising of people worldwide determined to preserve the basis of human survival.

This TTW Public Forum will be held in the Teaching Theatre at the Woodstock NB Community College. The program begins at 7 PM with a discussion to follow the film. TTW Forums are open to the public without charge. Donations to help cover expenses are appreciated.

Alarmed by what he discovered about the health of Earth’s environment when he made Sharkwater, Stewart set out on a four year, worldwide journey to bring home the full story of Earth’s interconnected web of life.

The film includes some of the most incredible wildlife scenes ever recorded. From the coral reefs of Papua New Guinea to the rainforests in Madagascar, Stewart reveals that all our actions are interconnected.

Through it all, Stewart’s journey of encouragement and hope meets activists all over the world who are winning the battle to save the ecosystems we depend on for survival.

Presenting the most important information on human survival, Revolution is a startlingly beautiful film that has been inspiring people all over the world to fight for the changes that will change the world for the better.

The next TTW Public Forum will be an update on the future of the Mactaquac Dam with spokespersons from the NB Power Commission.

Is Shale Gas a Bridge Fuel?

This posting is from the Energy Futures column in the Woodstock Bugle-Observer.
It was published on January, 12th, 2016.

By Keith Helmuth

Within the last few years there has been a remarkable change in attitude about fossil fuels.

There is rapidly growing agreement among people in positions of public responsibility that we must reduce our collective carbon emissions.

For example, the NB Power Commission is committed to increasing its renewable energy portfolio and shift from coal and oil to natural gas for thermal generation of electricity.

On the surface, the shift to natural gas makes sense because it emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide of all fossil fuels when burned. In this context, shale gas has been called a “bridge fuel” that will help reduce carbon emissions during the time it takes for renewable energy to get ramped up to full potential.

However, research documented in a new report by Robert Howarth of Cornell University’s Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology now shows that methane leakage from hydraulic fracturing operations wipes out the advantage of shale gas as a cleaner burning fossil fuel.  See “Methane Emissions and Climatic Warming Risk from Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale Gas Development: Implications for Policy.” www.dovepress.com

Methane emissions are second in quantity to carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, but it has 100 times the heat trapping capacity of CO2. Even relatively small emissions have a proportionally large effect. If curtailed, a significant reduction in the human contribution to the greenhouse effect would take place. If not curtailed, and especially if expanded, shale gas operations will add to the greenhouse effect.

According to Howarth, the policy implication of this research for addressing climate change calls for stopping the development of hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of shale gas production.

This is discouraging news for those who have been arguing that expanding the shale gas industry in the province would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by displacing coal and oil.

The good news, however, is that while a fossil fuel bridge to a clean energy future is needed, it will likely be needed for a much shorter period of time than previously expected. Within the last several years the cost of renewables has plummeted and the scaling up of clean, renewable energy technology is moving with dramatic speed.

Economics is turning the tide. According to Christiana Figueres, head of the upcoming Climate Summit in Paris, 2.6 trillion dollars has already been invested in renewable energy and much more is on the way.

Investors are paying heed to Mark Carney, head of the Bank of England and former head of the Bank of Canada, who has repeatedly warned that fossil fuels are fast becoming stranded assets, and that smart money should look elsewhere for investment security.

Why hasn’t the natural gas industry stopped the methane leaks that accompany their drilling, extraction, storage, and transportation systems? A recent Fraser Institute report says it’s just a matter of instituting “best practices.” If it were that easy, why haven’t they done it? Maybe it’s not that easy. Maybe the economics of shale gas discourages “best practices.”

For example, in its submission to the NB Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing, Corridor Resources cites “excessive regulatory requirements” and “requirements inconsistent with risk” as barriers to shale gas development in New Brunswick. This sounds like a conflict between shale gas economics and “best practices.”

Meanwhile, shortening the bridge to a low carbon future, no matter what fossil fuels are used for the journey, must certainly be the goal of progressive energy policies. Policies that advance renewable energy will help reduce the use of all fossil fuels.

NB Power is catching this wave; it recently announced a $500 rebate for installing heat pumps and New Brunswickers are snapping up the offer. The Power Commission is now about to sweeten the deal; it is planning to help finance the cost of heat pump installation and accept repayment through a slight increase on monthly power bills. This is, indeed, smart energy policy.

Keith Helmuth is a member of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group

New Shale Gas Reports Need Careful Scrutiny

This posting is from the Energy Futures column in the Woodstock Bugle-Observer.
It was published on December, 11th, 2015.

By Keith Helmuth

The rate at which new reports on shale gas operations are coming out, argues strongly for the importance of the NB Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing.

For example, the Fraser Institute released a Research Bulletin in October that reviews some of the risk assessment literature on hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction. It is titled Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing: A Update. The Telegraph Journal has reported extensively on this document. The full text can be read at

https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/managing-the-risks-of-hydraulic-fracturing-an-update.pdf

At about the same time Robert Howarth of Cornell University Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology published a report titled, “Methane Emissions and Climatic Warming Risk from Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale Gas Development: Implications for Policy.”  This report is available at https://www.dovepress.com/methane-emissions-and-climatic-warming-risk-from-hydraulic-fracturing–peer-reviewed-article-EECT

The Commission will no doubt study both documents before releasing its report to government in March 2016.

There seem to be widespread agreement that the best scientific information should help guide decisions on shale gas. The Howarth report, for example, documents a new level of accuracy in measuring methane leakage from shale gas operations. The Fraser Institute Bulletin does not reference this advance in research measurement, nor does it include methane leakage in its list of five risk factors, although it is briefly mentioned in the section on air pollution.

The Howarth report documents how new and more accurate measuring techniques indicate methane leakage from shale gas operations is much larger than previously assessed. This is important information for understanding the climate warming risk of shale gas development and the control of greenhouse gas emissions overall.

The difference between the Fraser Bulletin and the Howarth report on methane leakage is instructive. The former gives a general 3% leakage figure that dates from earlier research and then assumes that  “… the risk can largely be solved by existing, cost-effective technologies.”

The Howarth report, however, documents current leakage in various geographic zones of shale gas development and explains the impact of these emissions on the risk of increasing climate change. In major shale gas test areas, new measurements show methane leakage from 9.5% to 12 % at the drilling and extraction sites.

There is general agreement that it is normal for another 2.5% leakage to occur “downstream” during storage and delivery to customers. Howarth concludes that methane leakage from shale gas operations is a critical factor in the human contribution to climate change.

Although climate change risk is a global condition, it is also directly relevant to NB. The NB government is committed to a Climate Action Plan that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Under current industry conditions, expanding shale gas extraction in NB will increase the province’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

We might ask, can’t industry stop the methane leakage? Apparently not or they would have done so since methane is their product and leakage means loss of revenue and profit.

Currently, NB has around 50 active and inactive natural gas wells. According to current projections, at least 2000 wells would be initially required to exploit NB’s shale gas potential; beyond that, additional wells would have to be continually drilled and fracked to compensate for the normally rapid depletion of new shale gas wells. The more wells, the greater the leakage. Abandoned drilling sites often continue to leak methane.

Methane is 100 times more effective at trapping solar heat than carbon dioxide, but it dissipates in the atmosphere within just twelve years. This means that cutting down and preventing methane emissions will have a rapid effect in helping to hold down global warming.

Climate action policies generally focus on reducing carbon dioxide because our economy produces so much of it. But CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years so mitigation will be a long slow process. Action on CO2 reduction is important but, according to Howarth, stopping the increase in methane emissions by foregoing shale gas development addresses climate change mitigation in an even more critical way.

Keith Helmuth is a member of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group

Letter to NB Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing from SEG

This is the text from a letter sent to the NB Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing from the Sustainable Energy Group on November 13, 2015. A PDF of this document can be downloaded here.

N.B. Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing
Marysville Place
P. O. Box 6000
Fredericton, N.B. E3B 5H2
info@nbshalegascomm.ca

Dear Commission Panel Members:

The Sustainable Energy Group (SEG) was established in 2004 as a nonprofit organization for the purpose of raising public awareness about renewable and environmentally sustainable options in energy production, distribution and use. SEG has responded to previous invitations, including Government Innovation Week in 2015; Responsible Environmental Management of Oil and Gas public consultation headed by Louis LaPierre in 2012; NB Energy Policy Commission in 2011; Day 2 Point Lepreau Hearing in 2011, and other relevant energy related initiatives over the years.

SEG supports the submission made by the NB Anti-Shale Gas Alliance to this commission and is adding further considerations that may or may not have been addressed to date.

Climate Change

In 2014 Sir Robert Watson and a team of thirty climate experts laid out a step-by-step action plan on how to meet the global warming limit. Meeting the target of keeping global temperature from rising above 2C by 2050 is still possible, according to the leading climate and energy experts that authored the report Tackling the Challenge of Climate Change. The report was presented at the special UN climate summit in New York in September 2014, called by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It concluded that staying under 2C needs “immediate, urgent action” at the highest levels of governments. Link: http://aosis.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Tackling-Climate-Change-K.pdf

Watson, a former scientific advisor to the UK government, rejects any suggestion that 2C is an inappropriate target, saying it “plays into the hands of climate deniers” and would be a step backward from the urgent action that’s needed. “Waiting until 2025 or 2030 to bend the CO2 emissions curve will be too late to meet the 2C target,” he said.

Watson pointed out that the steps needed to achieve 2C are not “rocket science: They include increased energy efficiency in all sectors – building retrofits alone can achieve 70-90% in energy reductions – and an effective price on carbon that reflects the enormous health and environmental costs of fossil fuels. Massive increases in wind, solar photo voltaics (PV) and other renewable technologies are crucial.

Watson worries that time is rapidly running out, and yet “people aren’t scared enough” to force governments to act. The number of influential people calling for action on climate is, however, growing steadily.

For example, Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of Canada who now is the Governor of the Bank of England, said in a 2014 World Bank seminar “The vast majority of reserves are unburnable,” if the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change. He called them “stranded assets,” meaning they are seemingly valuable to investors, but will ultimately not be exploitable.

Thinking of hydrocarbon deposits as stranded assets has gained prominence in recent years. Climate science indicates that if the world is to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions enough to avoid disastrous global warming, much of the world’s already discovered oil and natural gas reserves must remain underground. The GHG emission with natural gas is methane, which could have a major impact on emissions in New Brunswick, if shale gas development is adopted.

Speaking to an audience of corporate interests and pension fund investors, Carney referred to a “tragedy of horizons” – the market failure by which actors, including investors, energy companies, and governments are not looking far enough ahead to the coming environmental problems, even though they can be clearly foreseen. Link:http://www.emergingmarkets.org/Article/3389530/Carney-hammersthe-point-you-cant-burn-all-the-oil.html

Almost half of the world’s most powerful corporations are in the fossil fuel sector. They have extraordinary influence on government policies. Robert Watson calls this influence “a form of corruption” preventing the necessary action on climate. In countries like the US, Australia and Canada, industry leads and government follows.

Environmental author, Naomi Klein in her latest book, This Changes Everything, writes “Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. …What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of those sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Update on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Report on Fracking

During the last week of October, 2015, the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board review panel — a group of scientists, engineers and industry representatives — converged on the Washington Plaza Hotel for meetings. On short notice, and to the surprise of EPA and the assembled panel, residents of Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas who have refused to be silenced by the industry also showed up, putting names and faces to the thousands of people harmed by fracking. One by one, Ray Kemble and Craig Stevens from Dimock, Pennsylvania, Ron Gulla from Hickory, Pennsylvania, John Fenton from Pavillion, Wyoming and Steve Lipsky from Parker County, Texas told their stories. Each was forced to condense five to ten years of anguish over the industry’s rapaciousness and over their government’s neglect into just five minutes.

The EPA had long abandoned its investigations in Dimock, Pavillion and Parker County, Texas, leaving the communities with contaminated water. And inexplicably, the EPA had excluded their “high-profile” cases of contamination from the assessment. One by one they demanded that the EPA include the truth about what happened in their communities in the assessment. Their testimonies struck a chord with the panelists. And this chord resonated with the absurdity of the Administration’s topline claim that the impacts are not “widespread, systemic.”

In a cathartic moment, toward the end of the second day, one of the panelists offered up a rewrite of the study’s major findings that captured all of these sentiments, and the panelists erupted in applause. It is safe to say the Obama Administration was not expecting rapturous applause from the panel in support of turning the top line finding on its head. The panelists are also recommending that, at the very least, the EPA provide explicit summaries of what happened in Dimock, Pavillion, and Parker County. Link:http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/insight/how-wheels-fell-epa%E2%80%99s-fracking-study#.Vjir9qWIbT4.email

Update on Methane (CH4) Leakage from Shale Gas Operations

There seems to be wide agreement that the best scientific information should help guide decisions on shale gas. Robert Howarth of Cornell University Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology has just published a report that clearly meets this standard: “Methane Emissions and Climatic Warming Risk from Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale Gas Development: Implications for Policy.” This report is available at https://www.dovepress.com/methane-emissions-and-climatic-warming-risk-fromhydraulic-fracturing–peer-reviewed-article-EECT

The Howarth report documents a new level of accuracy in measuring methane leakage from shale gas operations. By way of contrast, the recent Fraser Institute Bulletin, Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing, does not reference this advance in research, nor does it include methane leakage in its list of five risk factors, although it is briefly mentioned in the section on air pollution. Link: https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/managing-the-risks-of-hydraulic-fracturing-an-update.pdf

According to Howarth, new and more accurate measuring techniques indicate methane leakage from shale gas operations is much larger than previously assessed. This is important information for understanding the climate warming risk of shale gas development and the control of greenhouse gas emissions overall.

The difference between the Fraser Bulletin and the Howarth report on methane leakage is instructive. The former gives a general 3% leakage figure that dates from earlier research, some of which is based on industry data, and then simply says, “… the risk can largely be solved by existing, cost-effective technologies.” The Bulletin offers no evidence to substantiate this latter claim.

The Howarth report, however, documents current leakage in various geographic zones of shale gas development and explains the impact of these emissions on the risk of increasing climate change. In major shale gas test areas, new measurements show methane leakage from 9.5% to 12% at the drilling and extracting sites.

There is also general agreement that it is normal for another 2.5% leakage to occur “downstream” during storage and delivery to customers. Howarth concludes that methane leakage from shale gas operations is a critical factor in the human contribution to climate change.

Although climate change risk is a global condition, it is also directly relevant to NB. The NB government is committed to a Climate Action Plan that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the government of NB is committed to the greenhouse gas reduction targets that were agreed to at a recent conference of Atlantic provincial premiers and New England state governors. Under current industry conditions, expanding shale gas extraction in NB will increase the province’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and the risk of climate change.

We might ask, can’t industry stop the methane leakage? Apparently not, or they would have done so since methane is their product and leakage means loss of revenue and profit.

Currently, NB has around 50 active and inactive natural gas wells. According to current projections, at least 2000 wells would be initially required to exploit NB’s shale gas potential; beyond that, additional wells would have to be continually drilled and fracked to compensate for the rapid depletion that is normal for new shale gas wells. The more wells, the greater the volume of methane leakage. As wells age they tend to leak more and more methane. Studies are now showing that abandoned wells, even when “sealed,” often continue to leak methane. Link: http://phys.org/news/2014-12-abandoned-oil-gaswells-emit.html

Methane is 100 times more effective at trapping solar heat than carbon dioxide, but it dissipates in the atmosphere within twelve years. This means that cutting down and preventing methane emissions will have a rapid effect in helping to hold down global warming.

Climate action policies generally focus on reducing carbon dioxide because our economy produces so much of it. But CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years so mitigation will be a long slow process. Action on CO2 is, of course, important but, according to Howarth, stopping the increase in methane emissions by foregoing shale gas development addresses climate change mitigation in an even more critical way.

We understand that the NB Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing must deal with complex and sometimes inconsistent information, but the Howarth report on the science of methane emissions from shale gas operations at least provides clarity on the greenhouse gas and climate change issue at this time.

A Note on Natural Gas as a Bridge Fuel

Natural gas when burned emits the lowest amount of carbon dioxide of all fossil fuels. On the strength of this fact, natural gas is being promoted as a “bridge fuel” that will help reduce carbon emissions during the time it takes for renewable energy to get ramped up to full potential.

Scientific research, however, is now showing that natural gas, under current circumstances, is not a bridge fuel. Research findings documented in the Howarth report cited above show that methane leakage from hydraulic fracturing operations wipes out the advantage of natural gas as a cleaner burning fossil fuel.

Under current industry conditions, the use of natural gas is no better than other fossil fuels, and, according to Howarth, possibly worse depending on the rate of methane leakage associated with its production, storage, and transport.

The policy implication of this research for controlling greenhouse gases and climate change, is that the development of natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing should be stopped.

This is discouraging news for those who have been arguing that, among other benefits, an expanding shale gas industry in NB would actually contribute to greenhouse gas reduction and global warming mitigation. Within the context of current research information, this argument can no longer be made.

The good news, however, is that the fossil fuel bridge to a clean energy future will likely be much shorter than previously expected. Within the last several years the cost of renewables have plummeted and the scaling up of renewable energy systems is moving with dramatic speed.

Economics is turning the tide. According to Christiana Figueres, head of the upcoming Climate Summit in Paris, 2.6 trillion dollars has already been invested in renewable energy and much more is on the way. Link: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/can-paris-talks-produce-climate-change-deal-sticks/

Investors are paying heed to Mark Carney who has repeatedly warned that fossil fuels are fast becoming stranded assets, and that smart money should look elsewhere for investment security.

Understanding the situation historically, our economy has been developed and is largely running on fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas. Plotting our energy transition into the future, we see the use of these fossil fuels as steadily diminishing and renewables gaining in capacity and system flexibility.

This period of diminishing fossil fuel use is the “bridge.” In this context, all fossil fuels are “bridge fuels.” The question is, what is the balance and how long will the “bridge” be before it tapers off into a fully developed renewable energy landscape. Action on limiting greenhouse gas emissions and implementing fully developed climate change policies will aim to make the “bridge” as short as possible. In the light of current research, this means no more shale gas development.

Seven Conditions to be Addressed Before any Further Consideration of Unconventional Oil and Shale Gas Development in New Brunswick

The Sustainable Energy Group requests a continued moratorium on unconventional oil and natural gas development in the Province of New Brunswick and that the following conditions be fully addressed before any further consideration of hydrocarbon development.

  1.  Implement the “30 recommendations that the Chief Medical Officer of Health believes are necessary to address the key findings and to protect or enhance population health through appropriate management of the shale gas industry.”
  2. Addressing Climate Changea) Publicly commit to and meet the two concurrent Climate Change Action Plans that the previous premier and the present premier have signed, along with the Eastern Provinces premiers and the New England state governors to:
         • “Reduce GHG emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.”
         • “Reduce GHG emissions by 75 to 85 percent below 2001 levels by 2050.”

    b) Publicly commit to and meet any national and international climate change mitigation agreements made on greenhouse gas emissions to meet the 2-degree limit on global temperature rise this century.

  3. Set targets and create programs for increasing renewable energy infrastructure, green building construction, and energy efficient retrofitting of existing buildings in order to accelerate the shift to a clean energy economy and maximize job creation potential of clean energy development.
  4. Secure binding liability agreements and bonds with all relevant parties for recovering costs arising due to infrastructure and environmental damage from all shale gas activities.
  5. Comply with the existing Clean Water Act, Water Classification Program and Watershed Designation Order.
  6. Produce (a) an economic cost/benefit analysis and (b) an environmental risk assessment.
    a) A comprehensive cost/benefit analysis must be conducted to determine the overall economic impact on the province. This analysis must include an objective third party assessment of the economic benefits of hydrocarbon development for the people of New Brunswick plotted against an assessment of all costs related to property values, agriculture, forestry and all other land uses, recreation and tourism, roads and bridges, health and health care, policing and the criminal justice system, environmental damage mitigation and remediation.b) A comprehensive risk assessment must include the level of endangerment to environmental quality, habitat integrity, public health and safety, public and private infrastructure and climate stability. The risk analysis must be conducted by an objective third-party agency, and, along with the cost/benefit analysis, be made fully available for public review.
  7. The duty to consult and accommodate all the concerns and interests of First Nations in New Brunswick.

Conclusion

There is no guarantee that the results from the highly anticipated UN Climate Change Summit in Paris will be substantially different this time than they were at previous summits. However, the sense of urgency with the ever-growing concern of billions of people around the world may finally overpower the boundless determination of the interested parties for the status quo. Regardless of the summit outcome, climate deniers have lost, and now the world must quickly figure out how to successfully adjust to the new reality that fossil fuels will play a diminishing role in the economy and in daily use.

New Brunswick is ideally positioned to take advantage of the emerging low carbon economy while saving itself the numerous known risks that would come with hydraulic fracturing. The choice between the benefits derived from developing clean energy to that of developing shale gas is now abundantly clear. Lifting the moratorium on shale gas development is highly problematic. It may never be a rational policy choice within the scope of the factors and conditions that must be taken into account. Meanwhile, there is nothing to prevent clean energy development. Incentives can quickly be put into place by government to create jobs retrofitting homes and buildings to silver efficiency standards, and to stimulate activity in community energy projects and renewable energy development throughout the province. The right time to make this happen has arrived.

Submitted on behalf of the Woodstock Sustainable Energy Group,

Samuel Arnold and Keith Helmuth