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Atlantic Canadians Demand Real Vision for the Region’s Energy Future

By Andrea Harden-Donahue and Catherine Abreu

Saint John will host two competing visions of an Atlantic energy future this week. On one side there is the Atlantic Energy Summit outlining a path of extreme energy and fossil fuel dependence to government and industry insiders. On the other is Energy for Everyone, a counter-summit bringing people together to champion the sustainable energy future Atlantic Canadians deserve.

Some would have us believe that a different energy path is ‘pie in the sky’ thinking. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Building a green economy will encourage innovation and job creation across New Brunswick and the region. In fact, for every one million dollars invested in renewable energy, fifteen jobs are generated. Only two jobs are generated by the same investment in oil and gas.

Atlantic Canada has incredible and plentiful renewable energy resources. The strength of wind, solar, and tidal regimes can be harnessed to get our electricity systems and, eventually, our transportation systems off of fossil fuels and onto clean, reliable fuels. If we strengthen provincial grids and find new ways to interconnect, Atlantic Provinces can work together to balance renewable energy across the region and keep the supply stable. New Brunswick and other Atlantic Provinces are already national leaders in energy efficiency. By continuing to invest in conservation, we can use a new diversity of renewable energy resources to the most strategic extent possible while reducing our carbon footprint.

Community ownership of green energy production provides the means to prioritize local job creation and provincial energy needs. Community and cooperatively owned renewable energy developments can also play an important role in ensuring an emphasis on local and democratic governance of a renewable energy system.

Instead of prioritizing this better, brighter future, the Atlantic Energy Summit would rather see the region stuck in the past. Keynote speakers include SWN Resources promoting shale gas in the region, TransCanada’s Vice President responsible for the Energy East pipeline, and the President of Irving Oil speaking on the proposal for a new deepwater oil export terminal.

Massive water use, high carbon emissions, negative impacts on human health, disruptions to wildlife, and increased risks to groundwater and local drinking water are some of the serious concerns with fracking. There is also no safe method to dispose of fracking waste. Communities across the region are saying no to fracking; it is time for governments and industry to listen.

The Energy East pipeline is not about meeting local energy needs or creating long-term jobs for New Brunswickers. The pipeline would ship 1.1 million barrels of oil per day through New Brunswick. Most of that huge quantity of oil will be loaded onto ships and exported through the Bay of Fundy, one of our region’s most precious bodies of water. While it is a multi-purpose pipeline that would ship several types of oil, tar sands bitumen will feature prominently in the mix. Faced with strong and growing grassroots resistance to shipping tar sands crude across B.C. or into the U.S., industry is eager for another route to reach international markets.

Once the crude reaches the ocean from ports in Quebec and Saint John, it would fetch higher world oil prices. This means it won’t lead to lower pump costs for Eastern Canada and is up for grabs to the highest bidder. The U.S., Europe, China and India are in line, according to media reports on TransCanada’s intentions for the Energy East pipeline. If government leaders were actually prioritizing supplying Atlantic residents with Canadian oil, why not redirect oil currently produced in Newfoundland (a lot closer than Alberta) that is exported to the U.S.?

Meanwhile, Atlantic Canadians are being asked to accept the risks of a tar sands pipeline spill that other jurisdictions, like B.C. and the U.S., are rejecting. Tar sand spills are unlike conventional oil spills. In Kalamazoo Michigan, where 3.8 million litres spilled into a local river, conventional cleanup methods haven't been able to recover the heavy crude, which sank to the bottom of the river bed. Three years and more than $1 billion later, the river is still polluted.

It is time to direct our attention to developing domestic energy resources here in New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada, rather than helping Alberta expand the tar sands. The sustainable future of our provinces depends on creating a thriving green economy that takes advantage of our renewable energy resources, stabilizes our electricity costs, and generates good, long-term employment.

New Brunswick should establish a new renewable energy public utility or create a renewable energy arm of NB Power. The utility could provide logistical support and funding to renewable energy projects, making direct investments in publicly owned wind, solar, biomass, and tidal developments. This, accompanied by a comprehensive sustainable transportation strategy and aggressive energy efficiency, will create a low-carbon future and better the lives of New Brunswickers.

Andrea Harden-Donahue is an Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner with the Council of Canadians. Catherine Abreu is the Regional Coordinator with the Atlantic Canada Sustainable Energy Coalition. Energy for Everyone: A summit beyond pipelines and shale gas is taking place in Saint John from October 2-4. Details are available at www.canadians.org/energy-summit.