With the denial of an extension for the Belledune coal plant, the Atlantic Premiers Council 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 Prime Minister Blaine Higgs, came after the province failed to extend the equivalency agreement beyond 2024.
“As the four provinces collectively, if we are all being pushed in this direction, then we want to harmonize our approach,” Higgs said when asked if it was an ultimatum.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia will have to phase out coal by 2030, but Nova Scotia will phase out four coal plants.
Higgs said the trade-off is to ensure that the phase-out doesn’t fall on the backs of New Brunswick residents, who will no doubt see energy rate hikes of 20 to 30 percent.
The same is addressed in the letter.
“This effort requires the willingness of the federal government to provide financial support to ensure that our citizens have access to affordable, clean energy and are not burdened by higher energy rates and increased energy poverty,” the letter reads.
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That’s where the Atlantic Loop comes in. The loop is the 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 not been clear.
Nova Scotia Prime Minister Tim Houston said his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month was positive, but left him with no commitment for funding.
The community faces economic consequences
Regardless of whether that financial support comes in, Restigouche-Chaleur MLA Daniel Guitard’s concern is job losses and financial consequences.
“We have 300 people, we have families up there who are waiting for an answer,” he said Thursday. “We have a government that, for political reasons, does not want to invest anything in the northern part of the province.”
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New Brunswick has had many communities affected by the closure or phase-out of various industries over the years.
In 2004, the largest pulp and paper mill in Miramichi closed and more than 1,280 employees lost their jobs. It never reopened, even though the property changed hands and plans for a solar panel plant, and it has since been demolished.
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That same year, just a couple of weeks earlier, the Nackawic pulp and paper mill had closed. In 2010, the mining industry closed in Minto. In 2016, Sussex lost its main employer with the closure of the potash mine. The Saint John shipyard closed after being idle for three years, costing 4,000 jobs.
Some progress has been made, particularly in Sussex, where the government secured a road salt contract at the old potash facility.
But People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin says economic devastation without a plan is long-lasting.
“I remember not long ago where the coal generating station in Grand Lake sank and the impact it had on the local area, so I sympathize with the people of Belledune in relation to that,” he said.
Austin said the phasing out of coal is inevitable, but it’s important that the federal and provincial governments put politics aside and make sure the people of 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 that the two levels of government are aligned with phasing out coal, but understands the importance of moving the Atlantic Loop forward.
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