With the denial for an extension for the Belledune coal-fire plant, the Council of Atlantic Premiers has sent a letter requesting $5 billion in compensation for the transition and to help facilitate the Atlantic Loop.
The letter, signed by New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, came after the province would not extend the equivalency agreement past 2024.
“As collectively the four provinces, if we’re all being pushed in this direction, then we want to get harmonized on our approach,” Higgs said when asked if this was an ultimatum.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia will have to phase out coal by 2030, but Nova Scotia will be phasing out four coal-fired plants.
Higgs said the compensation is to ensure the phase-out doesn’t fall on the backs of New Brunswickers who will no doubt see power rate increases by 20 or 30 per cent.
The same is addressed in the letter.
“This effort requires the federal government’s willingness to provide financial support to ensure our citizens have access to clean and affordable energy and are not burdened by higher energy rates and increased energy poverty,” the letter reads.
That’s where the Atlantic Loop comes in. The loop is infrastructure that will facilitate green energy to New Brunswick, and the other Atlantic provinces, through Quebec and Ontario.
But funding for that project, which tops out at $5 billion for the region, has been unclear.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston said his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau early this month was positive but left with no commitment for the funding.
Community face economic fallout
Regardless of whether that financial support comes, the concern for Restigouche-Chaleur MLA Daniel Guitard is the loss of jobs and economic fallout.
“We have 300 people, we have families up there who are waiting for an answer,” he said on Thursday. “We have a government who, for political reasons, does not want to invest at all in the north part of the province.”
New Brunswick has had many communities impacted by the closure or phase-out of various industries over the years.
In 2004, Miramichi’s largest pulp and paper mill shuttered, with more than 1,280 employees losing jobs. It never reopened, despite ownership changing hands and plans for a solar panel plant, and his since been demolished.
In the same year, only a couple of weeks before, Nackawic’s pulp and paper mill closed. In 2010, the mining industry shuttered in Minto. In 2016, Sussex lost its major employer with the closure of the potash mine. The shipyard in Saint John shut down after sitting idle for three years, costing 4,000 jobs.
Some progress has been made, particularly in Sussex, where the government secured a contract for road salt at the old potash facility.
But People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin says the economic devastation without a plan is lasting.
“I remember it wasn’t too long ago where the coal-fired generating station in Grand Lake was scuttled and the impact that had on the local area, so I sympathize with the folks in Belledune in relation to that,” he said.
Austin said the phase-out of coal is inevitable, but it is important the federal and provincial governments set politics aside and ensure the people in that region have something to transition to.
“I can tell you first-hand, in my local area, there is an impact,” he said.
The federal government said in an email Friday the two levels of government are aligned on the phase-out of coal but that it does understand the importance of moving the Atlantic Loop forward.
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