NB Power must close its Belledune coal energy plant by 2030. The utility is betting that new nuclear reactors (SMRs) will be built by that date to generate replacement energy. However offshore wind power could replace not only Belledune but also the Point Lepreau nuclear plant, and developing wind power would eliminate the need for more nuclear reactors. We can look to the U.S., the U.K. and the E.U. for guidance.
In May 2021, the Biden administration approved the first large-scale offshore American wind farm. The Vineyard Wind wind farm will be constructed 24 kilometres south of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts and will generate 800 megawatts (MW) at peak power when operational in 2024. This is just the first step of an ambitious U.S. program that has set a target of installing 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2030, nearly all of which will be located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the northeastern states.
European governments recognized the potential of offshore wind power more than a decade ago. Europe now has 116 offshore wind farms with a total installed capacity of 25 GW and has set a target of 60 GW of installed wind power capacity by 2030. This figure doesn’t include the Brexited U.K., which has its own target of 40 GW of wind power operational by 2030.
Putting these numbers in perspective in relation to the nuclear power now generated in Canada, it takes roughly twice as much wind farm capacity to generate the same power as a nuclear power plant. Substituting the 13.5 GW of power generated by the nuclear plants in Ontario and New Brunswick would require about 27 GW of offshore wind capacity. A Canadian target of 30 GW of offshore wind power capacity easily meets this threshold, and with enough spare capacity to shut down the coal-fired power plants in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The offshore wind regime of Atlantic Canada is stronger than that of northern Europe and the United Kingdom. Moreover, compared to the U.S. northeast coast, Canada has access to a much larger offshore area with stronger wind speeds. The available power of this inexhaustible resource is enormous.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has estimated the technically feasible wind power potential along the U.S. Atlantic coast at 1,100 GW, which is more than 10 times the total electrical power now generated by all the provinces in Eastern Canada. Given the higher mean wind speeds and the greater resource area of the Atlantic provinces, Canada’s offshore wind power potential is likely to be substantially greater than the United States.
The cost of electricity from offshore wind has fallen dramatically in recent years as developers have installed larger and more efficient turbines. The documented first-year (2022) price for delivery of offshore wind generation and renewable energy certificates under the Vineyard Wind power purchase agreement (PPA) is between US$65 and US$74 per MWh, which converts to below 10 cents Canadian per kWh. The last U.K. auction awarded 5.5 GW of new offshore wind projects at less than seven cents Canadian per kWh.
For New Brunswick, the case for offshore wind is particularly compelling. NB Power operates about 2.7 GW of fossil fuel and nuclear generating capacity. All the fossil-fuel power stations and the Point Lepreau nuclear installation could be replaced by offshore wind farms with an installed capacity of less than 6 GW.
Moreover, offshore wind farms can be located close to coastal power stations (Belledune, Coleson Cove, and Point Lepreau) to take advantage of existing electricity transmission infrastructure. And compared to conventional power plants and nuclear technology, wind farms can be rapidly constructed and brought online, generating electricity within less than five years.
Wind power is intermittent, so utility-scale energy storage systems are essential. In the U.S., 43 pumped storage hydro plants are currently in operation. Canada has only one – the Sir Adam Beck hydropower plant on the Niagara River in Ontario. However, three new PSH installations are in the planning stage – at Brazeau and Canyon Creek in Alberta, and a large 1000 MW installation on the Bruce Peninsular in Ontario. Globally, the rapidly expanding development pipeline or new PHS projects is testament to the realization by utilities that pumped storage systems can generate significant revenue from the excess energy that solar and wind frequently produce.
However, a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has argued that Quebec’s substantial hydropower capacity could function as a huge storage battery for the renewable electricity generated in Atlantic Canada and New England. Hydropower pumped storage is therefore unnecessary. The integration of Atlantic Canada’s hydropower and wind power with Quebec’s storage capacity underscores the enormous importance of the proposed Atlantic Loop high-voltage transmission line—which the federal government should not hesitate to approve and support.
The availability of a gigawatt-scale source of untapped renewable energy in Atlantic Canada completely undermines government proposals to develop small nuclear reactors (SMRs).
The economic and commercial justification for investing substantial resources in the research, development and deployment of SMRs has been vigorously challenged and discredited by scientists, environmental groups and community organizations across Canada and the U.S.
Offshore wind power is a huge opportunity for New Brunswick’s power sector to become emissions-free well before 2030. Moreover, the economic benefits are substantial. The U.S. program is estimated to create “tens of thousands of jobs in a range of occupations that would pay at or above the national average and sustain more than US$12 billion a year in offshore wind project capital investments.” This “would spur additional investments in supply chain development, port revitalisation, vessel construction, wind power plant operations, and onshore assembly facilities.”
New Brunswick’s government should be investing in offshore wind power, a proven source of inexhaustible renewable energy that Atlantic Canada has in abundance, not in the chimera of so-called small modular reactors—a technology that does not even exist at the present time.
Martin Bush, a consultant on renewable energy and climate change management, lives in Brossard, Quebec and is following energy developments in New Brunswick. He holds a B.Sc.Tech in Chemical Engineering and Fuel Technology (University of Sheffield, UK), a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the same university, and a postgraduate degree in protected landscape management.
After teaching chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo and the University of Calgary, and renewable energy technology at the University of Florida, Dr. Bush has worked as Team Leader and Project Director on community-based programmes focused on natural resources and watershed management (including two national parks), climate change adaptation, disaster preparedness, and renewable energy projects in Djibouti, Sudan, Mali, Guinea, Madagascar, Haiti, and Egypt. He is the author of two books on climate change management including: Climate change and renewable energy: How to end the climate crisis, published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2019, and Climate Change Adaptation in Small Island Developing States, published by Wiley in 2018.