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Minister Mike Holland says February cold snap created emergency situation which could have had significant impacts on NB Power customers. (File photo)
The Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development, Mike Holland, recently presented a bill aimed at prohibiting the sale of electricity to cryptocurrency farm projects, known to be very energy-intensive.
It was during the presentation of this initiative that Minister Holland affirmed that the cold episode in February meant that we came very close to not even be able to turn on the lights with the electricity generation that we have.
For Yves Gagnon, professor of engineering at the University of Moncton, the minister's statement is tinged with sensationalism since it suggests that the entire province would be lacking of electricity if peak demand exceeded the province's internal production capacity.
Indeed, the reality is a little more complex than that described by Minister Holland.
Before citizens are unable to light or heat their homes during an extreme cold event, NB Power is rolling out a series of measures to increase the amount of electricity offered on its network.
Among the measures, energy exports outside the province are suspended. When domestic electricity demand exceeds supply, New Brunswick can also purchase energy from its neighbors.
In February, However, this was impossible since Quebec could not provide us with energy due to the extremely cold temperatures which also led to a high demand for electricity in this province, indicated in an email Dominique Couture, spokesperson for 'NB Power.
The February cold snap pushed the province's production capacity to its limits. NB Power was even forced to initiate an emergency procedure aimed at reducing the consumption of the province's most energy-intensive industrial customers.
Although this type of scenario has never occurred, it would not have taken much for NB Power to also be forced to implement controlled electricity interruptions in New Brunswick households.
In February it was a pretty serious situation and this is the closest we are came to have to do load shedding at customers' homes.
A quote from Dominique Couture, spokesperson for NB Power
According to NB Power, it is unlikely that these measures, described as a last resort only in cases of extreme emergency, will ever be deployed. These would, however, be distributed in such a way as to minimize the impact on customers while guaranteeing the stability of the network.
According to Simon Langlois-Bertrand , a research associate at the Trottier Energy Institute, coming this close to the production capacity limit during periods of high demand is symptomatic of a lack of planning.
< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">This is notably one of the conclusions of a strategic analysis of the electricity sector in central and eastern Canada to which he collaborated.
That we find ourselves in 2023 and we don't have enough electricity in February, that shows to what extent we have missed the boat in this planning, we have a lot of catching up to do.
A quote from Simon Langlois-Bertrand, research associate at the Trottier Energy Institute
Yves Gagnon, who specializes in renewable energy, don't mince words. The situation once again demonstrates amateurism in the energy sector in NB.
The situation is all the more critical that the electrification of transportation and the economy will considerably increase the demand for electricity in the province.
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Yves Gagnon, professor of engineering at the University of Moncton and specialist in renewable energies, is of the opinion that NB is under-exploiting green electricity.
To deal with this, Yves Gagnon is pleading in particular for greater interconnection of New Brunswick with its neighbors in order to facilitate the sharing of electricity. Steps must also be taken to reduce demand.
New Brunswick must increase its energy efficiency and put in place demand management mechanisms, including the establishment of a smart grid, analyzes the professor.
He cites the example of Japan where residential hot water is heated at night, during periods of low demand.
NB Power ensures that it is increasing its efforts to reduce residential use of electricity, which represents nearly 40% of demand in the province, through numerous energy efficiency programs. Similar initiatives are also taking place among businesses and industries.
NB Power's Integrated Resource Plan, released in 2023, addresses elsewhere several of these challenges and the solutions proposed to overcome them.
Larry Hughes, a professor at Dalhousie University who is interested in energy security, also notes that this should have been thought about well in advance and that the province now appears to be poorly prepared.
The problem is that before we have improved the energy efficiency of enough homes to reduce energy demand, the situation in February 2023 will be will be reproduced many times, fears the professor.
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Heat pumps are presented as an alternative to oil heating.
Increasing power generation capacity can also be part of the solution, but that too is a long-term solution, he adds.
It's a question of time and scale, says Larry Hughes. We need to be able to act quickly and on a large enough scale for the impact to be significant, but it takes a long time.
Simon Langlois-Bertrand makes the same observation. Until New Brunswick succeeds in reducing its demand or increasing its green energy production capacity, it may have to resign itself to using certain polluting sources.
Obviously, these are efforts that must be made, but if we are talking about short-term solutions, I am not sure that this will make it possible to deliver the quantity of energy that we have needed for the coming years, he said, adding that the solutions deployed today will not be able to compensate for the problems resulting from poor planning.
Justin Dupuis (View profile)