Out-of-sync government policies and regulations are the biggest obstacle to a successful clean energy transition in Atlantic Canada, a standing committee of the New Brunswick legislature has been told.

The four Atlantic provinces should immediately co-operate in setting up a regulatory modernization task force to harmonize, clarify and improve the framework governing energy development in the region, Atlantica Centre for Energy President Colleen d’Entremont told the committee earlier this month.

She also spoke of the need to embrace the development of alternative energy such as small modular reactors and hydrogen as well as build a greater focus on energy efficiency and shifting consumer behaviour.

“As energy users and producers seek to make changes to pursue innovative paths toward a clean energy future, they find themselves confronted by policies and regulations designed for a different era,” a written submission to the committee says.

The suggestion for a regulatory task force is one of 10 recommendations the Atlantica Centre submitted to the committee.

New Brunswick is a national leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the submission notes. But it says the path forward to carbon neutrality will require an “unprecedented effort” of behavioural changes and reduced demand for energy.

There are only two levers available to accomplish a successful transition to clean energy, d’Entremont says: demand and supply. She says the key to reducing supply, and thereby reducing emissions, is to reduce demand.

“The most important lever is demand side management,” d’Entremont writes in the submission. “No energy gets produced if there is no demand for it. Reducing demand, whether through increased efficiency, reduction in need, or behavioural changes, will lead to a reduction in supply. New Brunswick must change its behavioural use of energy to effect change in emissions.”

One of the most important behavioural changes will be much closer co-ordination between the four provinces – a goal that has long remained elusive. The submission notes that lack of cooperation has caused the region to lag behind other provinces and not get the attention it needs from the federal government.

“Unfortunately, Atlantic Canada lacks a unified energy voice in Ottawa and is faced with policies designed for central or western Canada,” d’Entremont said. “In response to these challenges, the Atlantica Centre for Energy is advocating for a cohesive regional clean energy plan, bolstered by a regional task force empowered by the Council of Atlantic Premiers.”

One of Atlantica’s recommendations calls for “a shared regional energy vision.”

“The four Atlantic provinces, the government of Canada, and the region’s energy utilities must forge a shared energy vision for the region that addresses the current economic reality while preparing for the transition to a secure and sustainable clean energy future,” the recommendation states.

“This will require much greater regional energy policy alignment and planning efforts to fulfill the region’s clean energy potential.”

There is great hope for the region, especially through innovation in such areas as small nuclear reactor development, d’Entremont states. But progress in such leading-edge areas will require an agile regulatory environment.

“We need an environment that is progressive, responsive, and modernized while also engaging in informed discussion about who will ultimately pay for the costs associated with the disruptive transition.”