MONCTON – As some of its key energy generators are set to retire in the next 25 years, NB Power is looking at other ways to ensure customer demands are met and there’s no supply deficit, Senior VP of Operations Lori Clark said at the APEC Major Projects event Friday.
“Typically what we would have done was build another power plant that would last 40, 50, 100 years in some cases,” she said. “But do we really want to build that big asset, put that steel in the ground, and have that asset for the next [50 years] with the potential of something happening where we have that asset down early?”
Three of NB Power’s key generators at Belledune, Point Lepreau and Coleson Cove will reach their end of life in the next 20 to 25 years. The Belledune generator is the youngest asset on NB Power’s fleet, even though it was built in 1991. Instead of taking that risk with a new plan, NB Power is asking customers’ help.
“That’s why we’re starting now, [we’re] looking at our Energy Smart plan so that we can have customers playing a role in reducing their energy consumption, building what we’re calling a virtual power plan,” she said to media after the event.
There might still be a need to build a small plant or to import electricity. But having customers play a more active role in consumption reduction could save around 640 MW in energy and $1-billion in costs for customers, Clark said.
“[Energy efficiency] is really where our customers can help us in our overall goal of reducing our energy consumption so we don’t need to build the next large power plant,” she said. “While the rates are relatively low, the amount of electricity New Brunswickers are using are causing higher bills.”
The utility is moving to a more complex, but more digitized system due to trends related to climate change, changing consumer behaviours and competition. Clark said it’s an expensive move, so it needs to ensure costs are offset within the utility.
Its Energy Smart plan, which covers Smart Grid, Smart Habits and Smart Solutions, aims to provide alternative sources of revenue such as through electric vehicle charging stations. The utility also wants to give customers tools and products that would allow them to track their power usage and expenses on a daily or weekly basis, among other things.
“If we want to modernize our grids so that we have this two-way communication [with customers, technological innovation] is critical for us to move forward,” Clark said. “It doesn’t matter if we believe it’s the right thing to do. If our regulator isn’t convinced and if we cant get the uptake from our customers, we can’t do this.”
NB Power had more than $300-million in capital investment last year and will invest the same amount this year for various programs.
For the Belledune station, NB Power is seeking alternatives to coal past 2030. Biomass is being taken into consideration, though nuclear is unlikely a good fit for that station, Clark said.
Still, Clark sees a future for nuclear power in New Brunswick.
“Having one nuclear plant, we don’t see an issue with one more or two,” she said.