Premier Blaine Higgs was in Ottawa on Monday with Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston to lobby the federal government for more funding for energy development. The meetings were part of the regional roundtables Canada announced last year to support the provinces to meet federal ‘net zero’ carbon emission targets.
The targets include eliminating coal-fired electricity plants by 2030 and then removing all other fossil fuel plants from the grid by 2035. In addition to the coal-fired plant at Belledune, NB Power owns a heavy oil plant at Coleson Cove and a fossil gas plant at Bayside.
At a Monday evening media event, federal Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announced $7 million for “pre-development work” for the ARC-100 nuclear reactor planned for the Point Lepreau site on the Bay of Fundy, $2 million to “explore the feasibility” of converting the Belledune coal-fired generating station to biomass, and about $1 million for the Belledune port for “site preparedness studies” to establish a green industrial hub.
The ARC-100 reactor is currently undergoing a provincial environmental impact assessment, a process expected to last into 2024. The federal funding announced Monday is in addition to the $25 million the province has already given the project. Although NB Power and the ARC proponent hope to have the reactor generating power to the grid by the early 2030s, a recent expert report from the U.S. indicated that sodium-cooled reactors like ARC will have difficulty reaching commercial viability by 2050.
Monday’s media event made it clear that New Brunswick sees new nuclear and burning biomass as central to its ‘net zero’ energy plan. This contrasts with the Nova Scotia plan focused on offshore wind. A new report has indicated the province could be an energy-generating powerhouse by developing its offshore wind potential.
However the potential to export that wind energy will be limited as long as interties and transmission corridors in the region are underdeveloped. Minister Wilkinson was clear that the Atlantic Loop project as originally conceived is dead, although future funding will be available for better transmission between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, what he called a “modified Atlantic loop” in the first phase.
What’s unclear is where the funding for the energy-generation projects will come from. Minister Wilkinson said that the federal funding originally on offer for the Atlantic Loop will not be repurposed into other energy projects, and that federal funding envelopes already exist for the projects planned by the two provinces.
For the small modular nuclear reactors that New Brunswick wants to develop, approximately $8 billion in grants is available from the federal “net zero accelerator” program within Innovation, Science and Economic Development’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).
However, these funds require recipient companies to raise matching funds. In 2021, the nuclear startup Moltex Energy in Saint John received $50.5 million from the SIF but has not yet been able to raise the matching funds. Until it raises the cash, it is unclear if more federal funding will be forthcoming for that project. Although both NB Power and Moltex have refused to say how much the SMR project will cost, reliable estimates start at $2 billion. Funds are also available for nuclear reactor development from the Canada Infrastructure Bank, but these are low-interest loans, not grants.
Susan O’Donnell is the lead investigator for the CEDAR project at St. Thomas University.