$40 Billion in energy projects expected to begin construction before 2030

Commentary by Michelle Robichaud, President

The Atlantica Centre for Energy’s Chair, Stephen MacMackin, recently wrote 2024 can be a pivotal time in Atlantic Canada’s energy transition if “some of the ‘politics’ can be removed to allow businesses to invest in our region.”

This is true.

Many big projects remain stuck in neutral waiting for federal investment tax credits to be finalized, decarbonization policies to be passed by governments, or regulations to be changed to enable new technologies. Across Canada these delays create uncertainties for multinational companies looking to invest and compete in a global marketplace.

While ‘politics’ are slowing down the transition to produce and use cleaner fuels and electricity, we need businesses to continue to invest in the region today despite the uncertainties. The energy sector contributes significantly to Atlantic Canada’s economy. The sector directly creates more than 16,500 jobs paying 1.5 the average of others in region, and indirectly supports another 21,500 careers.

The energy transition is inevitable at this point, and we need the energy sector to remain strong.

Governments, businesses and consumers want action to reduce emissions. And, Atlantic Canadian businesses have already started, albeit with smaller projects.

In New Brunswick, Irving Oil recently announced multiple contracts to import carbon-negative renewable natural gas to use in its Saint John refinery operations. The refinery is also the first in Canada to invest in an electrolyzer to generate hydrogen. J.D. Irving invested in a new two-megawatt biomass boiler to eliminate the need to use bunker fuel at its Chipman sawmill.

In Nova Scotia, Eastward Energy is testing natural gas heat pumps with large multi-unit residential buildings in Halifax to reduce space heating emissions. Nova Scotia Power developed a community solar garden in Amherst to power up to 240 local homes and recently announced three grid-scale battery projects in partnership with First Nations.

In Price Edward Island, the City of Summerside announce the successful completion and grand opening of its latest solar/battery farm. The University of Prince Edward Island, Holland College and the provincial government have partnered and broken ground to develop Cleantech Park, Learning and Innovation Centre, and Academy near Georgetown.

To accelerate the decarbonization of Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil and gas sector, the Premier recently announced a fund specifically for research and development for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

Utilities across the region are also increasingly partnering with Indigenous stakeholders to build new renewable projects together, alongside developers like Natural Forces.

These are just a few of many relatively smaller scale projects and pilots underway to help produce and deliver clean energy to Atlantic customers. There are many more similar projects in development to continue advancing towards a cleaner energy sector.

These demonstration projects contribute economically, and also provide learning opportunities like forming supply chains, training staff and identifying which skills are needed to scale-up. These smaller scale projects also prove to the public what technologies make sense and provide value to ratepayers. In doing so, they serve to help build social license to pave the way to help enable larger developments proceed with limited public pushback. Afterall, 2050 is fast approaching.

Individually, these smaller-scale projects won’t allow the region to reach its net-zero ambitions. But this progress is key to building the experience needed to invest in larger-scale energy projects.

And, Atlantic Canada is poised to win big in the energy transition. There are more than $40 billion in energy projects expected to begin construction in Atlantic Canada before 2030.

We must still address the ‘politics’ slowing larger scale developments like developing offshore wind and major hydrogen projects, adding interprovincial transmission, developing new nuclear, refurbishing hydro facilities or transitioning coal-fired generation assets to cleaner sources. In the meantime, the region’s utilities and other energy developers must continue to build on the smaller, but vital, projects to prepare for the larger investments to be made with confidence.

Policymakers should support continued investment in small-scale projects to ensure the region can be a leader in larger energy developments and technology.

The energy sector must continue making stepwise investments and taking risk to help prepare for the huge investments to come, despite some political uncertainty.

These investments will position Atlantic Canada to win, and win big, in the energy transition.