NB Power is due to shut down its coal-fired Belledune Generating Station by 2030. The utility is betting that new nuclear reactors (NMRs) will be built by that date to generate alternative power. However, offshore wind power could replace not only Belledune, but also the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, and the development of wind power would eliminate the need for more nuclear reactors. We can look to the US, UK and EU for guidance.
In May 2021, the Biden administration approved America’s first large-scale offshore wind farm. The wind of the vineyard wind farm will be built 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts and will generate 800 megawatts (MW) at peak power when operational in 2024. It’s just the first step in an ambitious American program which has set a goal of installing 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity by 2030, almost all of which will be located in the Atlantic Ocean off the northeastern states.
European governments recognized the potential of offshore wind energy more than ten years ago. Europe now has 116 offshore wind farms with a total installed capacity of 25 GW and has set a target of 60 GW of installed wind capacity by 2030. This figure does not include Brexited UK, which has its own target of 40 GW of wind power operational by 2030.
Putting these numbers into perspective with the nuclear power currently produced in Canada, it takes about twice as much wind farm capacity to produce the same power as a nuclear plant. As a substitute for the 13.5 GW of electricity produced by the nuclear power stations of Ontario and New Brunswick would require around 27 GW of offshore wind capacity. A Canadian target of 30 GW of offshore wind capacity easily meets this threshold, and with enough spare capacity to shut down coal-fired power plants in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Atlantic Canada’s Offshore Wind Regime is stronger than that of Northern Europe and the United Kingdom. Also, compared to the northeast coast of the United States, Canada has access to a much larger offshore area with higher wind speeds. The available power of this inexhaustible resource is enormous.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has estimated the technically feasible wind potential along the American Atlantic Coast to 1,100 GW, more than 10 times the total electrical power currently produced by all provinces in eastern Canada. Given the higher average wind speeds and larger resource area of the Atlantic Provinces, Canada’s offshore wind energy potential is likely to be significantly higher than that of the United States.
The cost of electricity from offshore wind has fallen dramatically in recent years as developers have installed larger and more efficient turbines. The documented price for the first year (2022) for the delivery of offshore wind and renewable energy certificates under the Wind from the vineyard power purchase agreement (PPA) is between US$65 and US$74 per MWh, which translates to less than 10 Canadian cents per kWh. The latest UK auction awarded 5.5 GW of new offshore wind projects for less than seven cents Canadian per kWh.
For New Brunswick, the case for offshore wind is particularly compelling. NB Power operates approximately 2.7 GW of fossil and nuclear energy production capacity. All fossil fuel power plants and the nuclear facility at Point Lepreau could be replaced by offshore wind farms with an installed capacity of less than 6 GW.
Additionally, offshore wind farms can be located near coastal power stations (Belledune, Coleson Cove and Point Lepreau) to take advantage of existing electricity transmission infrastructure. And compared to conventional power plants and nuclear technology, wind farms can be quickly built and commissioned, producing electricity in less than five years.
Because wind power is intermittent, large-scale energy storage systems are essential. In the United States, 43 pumped-storage hydroelectric plants are currently in operation. Canada has only one – the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station on the Niagara River in Ontario. However, three new PSH facilities are in the planning stage – at Brazeau and Canyon Creek in Alberta, and a large 1,000 MW facility installation on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. Globally, the rapid expansion development pipeline or new PHS projects demonstrates the realization by utilities that pumped storage systems can generate significant revenue from the excess energy frequently produced by solar and wind power.
However, a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that Quebec’s significant hydroelectric capacity could function as a huge storage battery for renewable electricity produced in Atlantic Canada and New England. Pumped storage of hydroelectricity is therefore not necessary. The integration of Atlantic Canada’s hydroelectricity and wind energy with Quebec’s storage capacity highlights the enormous importance of the Atlantic Loop high-voltage transmission line project, which the federal government should not hesitate to approve. and to support.
The availability of an untapped gigawatt-scale renewable energy source in Atlantic Canada completely undermines government proposals to develop small nuclear reactors (SMRs).
The economic and commercial rationale for investing substantial resources in the research, development and deployment of SMRs has been vigorously contested and discredited by scientists, environmental groups and community organizations everywhere in Canada and the United States
Offshore wind energy is a huge opportunity for New Brunswick’s electricity sector to become zero emissions well before 2030. Plus, the economic benefits are substantial. The American program is believed to create “tens of thousands of jobs in a range of occupations that would pay at or above the national average and support more than $12 billion a year in capital investment in offshore wind projects.” This would “spur additional investment in supply chain development, port revitalization, shipbuilding, wind farm operations and onshore assembly facilities.”
The Government of New Brunswick should invest in offshore wind power, a proven source of inexhaustible renewable energy that Atlantic Canada has in abundance, and not in the pipe dream of so-called small modular reactors, a technology that doesn’t even exist now.
Martin Bush, a renewable energy and climate change management consultant, lives in Brossard, Quebec, and follows energy developments in New Brunswick. He holds a B.Sc.Tech in Chemical Engineering and Fuels Technology (University of Sheffield, UK), Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the same university and a postgraduate degree in Protected Landscape Management.
After teaching chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo and the University of Calgary, and renewable energy technology at the University of Florida, Dr. Bush worked as a team leader and project director on programs communities focused on natural resources and watershed management (including two national parks), climate change adaptation, disaster preparedness and renewable energy projects in Djibouti, Sudan, Mali, Guinea, in Madagascar, Haiti and Egypt. He is the author of two books on climate change management including: Climate Change and Renewable Energy: How to End the Climate Crisis, published by Palgrave-Macmillan in 2019, and Climate Change Adaptation in Small Island Developing States , published by Wiley in 2018.