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Let’s build an integrated energy framework

Gilles Volpé
Commentary

There’s a lot of money in North America’s energy markets these days – and almost none of it is being invested here, in New Brunswick.

We need to change that, and we need to change it fast.

For instance, over the next three years Enbridge will invest a record $36 billion in North American energy projects.

Those investments are being made in the Gulf of Mexico, in northern British Columbia, in Ontario and in Quebec.

And, in the next few years, Enbridge will decide if its investments will extend further into New Brunswick.

In 2019, Enbridge Gas New Brunswick’s original agreement with the Government of New Brunswick will be up for renewal, which means we all have some important decisions to make.

To date, Enbridge has invested nearly $500 million in New Brunswick as we have worked to build New Brunswick’s public distribution system for natural gas.

It has not been easy.

Let me be frank: at Enbridge Gas New Brunswick we know current market conditions are tough on small and medium-sized businesses in New Brunswick.

We can, and will do better because our success is dependent on affordable gas prices for New Brunswick business and residential consumers.

It’s why we applied to lower distribution rates for residential customers by 50 per cent and we are on track to recover all of our operating costs in 2015.

But while there are specific issues unique to our situation, when you step back and look broadly at the North American energy picture one fact becomes clear: jurisdictions that have successfully developed energy infrastructure have learned how to balance public interest with economic need.

Right now we don’t have that in New Brunswick.

Instead, we have a series of energy-related policies that attempt to serve the specific requirements of various groups – industrial users, small business people, residential consumers and, producers and suppliers.

The end result is a situation that satisfies no one. We need to develop a better way – and we need to do it together.

We need to develop a region-wide, integrated energy policy and it must be built upon five foundational principles.

First, public utilities exist to serve the public good.

To accomplish this we need public regulators that are independent and transparent.

Second, a new energy policy must support diversity of supply.

We must capitalizes on New Brunswick’s existing energy infrastructure, such as Canada’s largest oil refinery, our regional network of electrical power and our natural gas distribution system, while continuing to diversify and strengthen our energy mix with the addition of renewable energy sources such as wind, tidal, solar and geothermal.

Third, it enables the development of local sources of energy in a safe and responsible manner.

Natural gas is the foundational fuel for the new economy.

As more natural gas supply comes on-stream, it provides the stimulus for manufacturing opportunities that did not exist before, or that had left in search of cheaper cost structures.

The jurisdictions that will succeed will be those that have affordable and accessible energy, readily available for businesses and individuals to use.

Fourth, we must embrace energy efficiency, which will enable energy consumers to get the greatest value from their energy dollars. This includes large industry, small and medium-sized businesses and homeowners.

We have great examples to follow in our neighbours, such as Vermont, a North American leader in energy efficiency, and Massachusetts, which is ahead of schedule in its push to increase enhance its energy mix.

And fifth, government must be the catalyst, by enacting policies that enable new development, new investment and new, innovative entrants into our marketplace.

A new integrated energy policy for New Brunswick can be the foundation of economic development across all sectors – from large industries down to local small businesses.

We need them as our trusted partner because strong public policy leads to private sector trust and investment – and that is what the people of New Brunswick need right now.

I have to confess I have a special fondness for technological innovation.

I was at NBTel during that incredible decade in the 1990s when it was recognized as the most innovative telecommunications company in the world and I see a lot of similarities between the telecommunications sector of the 1990s and today’s energy sector. 

Like the old telcos, today’s energy sector is going through a lot of changes. It’s why I took the job at Enbridge Gas New Brunswick – I love a good challenge.

And I believe we have a great team to help solve it.

Our employees are New Brunswickers, they live here and like all of you, they want to be part of building a strong economy for themselves and their families.

Through our connection to Enbridge we bring deep knowledge of North American and world energy markets to New Brunswick.

We want to share our experiences in Western and Central Canada as we work together to develop an open and diversified public energy system for New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada.

Local ingenuity, outside knowledge and a passion to drive economic development and wealth creation in New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada.

It’s what we all want.

Let’s work together to design a system that lets us all share in the opportunities natural gas and the energy sector has to offer.

Gilles Volpé is the general manager of Enbridge Gas New Brunswick.