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Greenhouse gas emissions grew slightly in one of Canada's smallest provinces last year, thanks to an uptick in planet-warming pollution from its electricity sector.

New Brunswick saw a six per cent rise in emissions, according to the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which put out a provincial breakdown of the federal government’s National Inventory Report. That report, based on the most recent data available from 2021, is an analysis provided to the United Nations to show a country’s progress on reaching climate targets.

Crown corporation NB Power increased its energy exports by 52 per cent, which upped overall fossil fuel use, explained Louise Comeau, co-executive director at the Conservation Council. As of 2019, the province’s energy mix was 38 per cent nuclear, 22 per cent hydropower, 15 per cent natural gas and 14 per cent coal. The remaining is a mix of wind, biomass and petroleum.

“The big story certainly seems to be exports … and so, the question for us is, you know, how we should make money on export sales. Should it come from our cleanest source only? Should we restrict the use of fossil fuel plants? I think the time for that conversation has long passed,” she said.

Meanwhile, this week the neighbouring Nova Scotia government handed the maximum possible fine to its privately owned electrical utility for missing a renewable energy target: $10 million.

Canada’s National Observer reached out to NB Power, which did not provide a response by deadline but pointed to a planning document from 2020 and noted an updated version is set to come out in the fall. In it, the company highlights that its emissions went down from 8.9 million tonnes in 2005 to 2.4 million tonnes in 2018, representing a 60 per cent cut.

In 2021, there were issues with some of the wind generation in New Brunswick leading to a 21 per cent decline in production: a wind turbine collapsed at a farm near Moncton, and there were cracks found in the bases of others.

The province’s nuclear plant experienced only a few planned shutdowns. However, in 2022, the plant had longer planned and unplanned shutdowns, prompting the grid to take more power from the coal-fired Belledune Generating Station and purchase more hydropower from Quebec.

To Comeau, emissions going up is a sure sign the province doesn’t have a solid climate plan.

Crown corporation NB Power increased exports of energy in 2021 by 52 per cent, which upped overall fossil fuel use, explained Louise Comeau, co-executive director at the @cc_nb.

“The reason we're raising the alarm is that we understand that the same pattern was employed in 2022. So emissions will be up again,” she said.

“This year at our Energy and Utilities Board hearings, NB Power outlined a similar commitment to increasing export sales. All of that means to me that this is not a one-off, it represents a potential trend.”

New Brunswick's Department of Environment and Local Governments said it will continue to act on its climate plan while developing a clean energy strategy "to ensure emissions are reduced in the province." It noted the federal government's commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

"The recently released greenhouse gas data for 2021 shows an increase over 2020 for electricity, but this is still lower than 2019 – so we are seeing continued decline in emissions. There is going to be year to year variation, but the long-term trend and goal are emission reductions. New Brunswick has been leading the country in emissions reductions since for 18 years at 39 per cent below 2005 levels," said the department in a statement.

Meanwhile, Premier Blaine Higgs is proposing the expansion of shale gas — a type of natural gas, which is a fossil fuel — to local First Nations. Chief Terry Richardson of Pabineau First Nation has spoken out against the plan, citing environmental concerns.

Ultimately, Comeau says the gains New Brunswick has made with emissions reductions will be lost unless the province invests in more renewables — specifically wind and solar. She said the province’s actions are “tying our future to risky, likely very expensive and definitely fuels that are no longer appropriate, like new fossil fuel development.”

“When we see these kinds of changes in the electricity sector and emissions growing, it gives us a chance to raise the flag and say, look … we need to kind of engage people in a conversation about how to fix it.”

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
April 20, 2023, 12:30 pm

This story has been updated to include comment from New Brunswick's Department of Environment and Local Governments.

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