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Saint John: Canada’s new energy hub

The US Northeast will obtain oil, gas, and nuclear energy from projects costing $16 billion. But locals fear new initiatives will lead to pollution and negative health effects.

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Saint John already provides a considerable amount of New England’s energy. Its oil refinery reportedly provides 60 percent of Boston’s vehicular gasoline supply. Point Lepreau’s 635-megawatt reactor was built largely to serve New England, as was the 978-megawatt Coleson Cove oil-fired plant, built here to avoid provisions of the US Clean Air Act.

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“New Brunswick is an area that’s seen as being easy to get approval for these projects,” says Rob Moir, an economist at the University of New Brunswick.

Projects also proceed because the companies behind them are local. Saint John’s powerful Irving family owns the oil refinery and part of the $750 million LNG terminal. Meanwhile, NB Power, a public utility is spending $1.4 billion, including replacement fuel and energy, to refurbish its 25-year-old nuclear plant and will run a second 1,085-megawatt reactor once it has been built at a cost of $4 billion. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the cost to NB Power of refurbishing its nuclear plant.]
Citizens trust NB Power for having “one of the best run nuclear plants in the world,” says Mr. Keir, while the Irving Oil Company has invested heavily in pollution abatement. “Governments grant permits, but it’s communities that grant permission,” he adds.

But not everyone is feeling permissive. “We’re very concerned that these additional facilities are going to have negative health impacts,” says Gordon Dalzell of the Saint John Citizens’ Coalition for Clean Air. “We’re going to pay the price so that people in the northeastern US can enjoy the energy.”

David Coon, policy director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick in Fredericton, is opposed to a new refinery. “It will obliterate all our progress in meeting greenhouse-gas targets on a national level,” he says.

Saint John mayor Ivan Court insists that the projects be staged so as to avoid boom-and-bust employment cycles. “The refinery will need 10,000 people to construct, but only 1,000 on completion,” he says. “It’s vital that the projects are timed so that one follows after another, allowing the people who build them to stay in our community over the long haul.”

With Canaport and an associated gas pipeline nearing completion, Saint John is already undergoing a renaissance. “Saint John has become a community that’s beginning to feel the wind in its sails,” says Mr. Curry.”