Province allocating $47 million for climate action

ST. STEPHEN – The New Brunswick government recently announced $47 million in funding as a part of its climate change action plan.

Some of that funding will be used in Charlotte County. Beth Pollock, director of efficiency services with NB Power, said they take a broad approach when evaluating energy efficiency and energy saving options both internally and at the household level.

“The first option for customers is on conservation and behaviour,” said Pollock, adding that includes things like turning off lights that aren’t needed and washing in cold water.

The next step for the utility is energy efficiency upgrades that will generate “deep savings in the homes and in businesses,” she said. Those include retrofit programs like the heat pump program. Pollock went on to say it’s not just as simple as getting a heat pump, but also to upgrade to a newer, more efficient heat pump.

Pollock said a full energy retrofit program that would include upgraded insulation and a heat pump could save a household about $1,000 per year in energy costs.

Pollock pointed out that all of this gets at the issue of capacity-building, building capacity at the homeowner level in terms of both knowledge and equipment and building capacity at the utility because if people are using less energy, there’s less peak demand for power. It also means they can incorporate those energy savings into future planning for energy needs as the province grows, reducing the capital cost of new generation projects.

“There’s often a lot of questions as to why NB Power would want to be running energy efficiency programs,” said Pollock. “There’s a great benefit of energy efficiency to the utility. There is an actual cost savings to the company through fuel purchase and that sort of thing.”

Those savings at the utility can help keep cost increases to ratepayers down.

Pollock acknowledged there are some gaps in the energy efficiency programs. One of those is traditional renter households. There is funding in the recent announcement for energy efficiency in social and subsidized housing for low-income renters but none for traditional renters.

“You bring up the very challenge that we have,” she said. “I would say that’s a tranche that we don’t have a great solution for yet. And a program where we’re addressing landlords would be a next step.”

From his perspective as minster of Natural Resources, Mike Holland said the $47 million in funding is fleshing out the broader goals outlined in the climate action plan announced in 2022, some of which will continue work his department has been doing already as well as expand the scope.

“Once you identify protected lands on Crown land, conserving biodiversity and vulnerable land in New Brunswick goes beyond the scope of just our Crown land,” said the minister, noting there is $1.5 million in the plan for identifying and purchasing private land.

He referenced the milestone met last autumn of preserving 10 per cent of Crown land in New Brunswick.

“The national average is higher than that, so we need to get creative on how we can expand and grow,” said Holland, which will include continuing to work with environmental organizations.

Of interest in Charlotte County is the nearly $400,000 for studying coastal flood and erosion risk, which includes sea level rise and increased storm events.

“Any of us that have spent any time in the coastal areas realize that resilience in those coastal communities, absolutely something we need to work on,” he said.

Another aspect of the climate change plan is funding the development of a system for forest carbon reporting.

Holland spoke to the need for better knowledge of the role forests can play in carbon sequestration as a component of the province’s climate change action plan.

“Forest carbon sequestration monitoring and identification is going to be a huge component of what we do,” said Holland. “Historically we haven’t done a lot of data on that.”

He said there was extensive discussion at the recent conference of forestry ministers in Saint Andrews about the need to be deliberate and intentional about the carbon sequestration evaluation of existing forests in a way that nets out the emissions from generation of forest products and the negative impacts of forest fires. He says they need to determine what Canadian forests truly represent in terms of potential for carbon sequestration.

Jessie Davies, a volunteer with the Nature Trust of New Brunswick, explained some of the impacts of coastal erosion on the area around Pagan Point Nature Preserve in Saint Andrews.

She said the impact caused, in part, by sea level rise “is very evident because we’ve had erosion, we’ve had trees fall over the bank. We’ve had to move a trail.”

Higher tides resulting from sea level rise can also exacerbate the problem.

“The tides will really influence what kind of erosion we have from sea level rise,” she said, citing additional factors like wind and storm surges.

There is a salt marsh area at the preserve and Davies said the area looks more like a lake than a marsh in extreme weather events, and they are beginning to see the marsh expand into some of the grassy areas and may eventually affect nearby residences.

Julia Beaumaster is a Grade 8 student at St. Stephen Middle School and editor of the recently launched Bobcat Gazette school newspaper. She participated in the interview with Natural Resources Minister Mike Holland and contributed to this story.