Four policies for New Brunswick's next government

Published Tuesday, August 19, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

On September 22nd, New Brunswickers will elect a new government.  Regardless of who wins, here are four policies that could help our province use less energy, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and benefit from the coming green economy.

1. Embrace solar energy

A Fredericton man made the news last February after designing and building a solar furnace that worked so well it overheated.  A friend of mine designed and built his own solar heater for $300 worth of materials, and he has a list of people who want him to build them one.  

New Brunswick is one of the sunnier provinces in Canada, and as a friend of mine likes to say, “The sun never sends a bill.”  So why aren’t we taking advantage of all that sunlight and using NB expertise and labour to build solar heaters for every building in the province?  It’s an opportunity that can lower our bills and emissions and put New Brunswickers to work.

And while we’re at it, let’s kickstart solar power generation in NB by offering incentives to homeowners and businesses to generate power on their rooftops and feed it into the provincial grid.  Such incentives have been used with great success in progressive jurisdictions like Germany and Ontario.  Pay for it through a small charge added to every power bill; anyone who doesn’t like it could simply install a solar panel to get their money back and more.

2. Champion carpooling

Of all the ways we use fossil fuels, our default commuting method – one person, one car – has to rank as one of the most wasteful.  That’s especially egregious in a province that imports virtually every drop of oil it uses.  

So how to create a culture of carpooling?  Start with some well-located carpool parking lots along main routes into our larger communities.  Add a toll-free hotline to help potential carpoolers find each other (perhaps operated by Service New Brunswick), and put that number on signs along those routes.  Build a rideshare website like Saint John’s www.shareyourride.ca for the entire province.  Promote widely.  Add a penny to gas prices to pay for it all.  (Closely related priority: support better public transit, including intercity buses.)

3. Make NB a leader in recycling

Great things are happening in different areas of the province, but the unavoidable truth is that recycling in NB is a patchwork of programs with mediocre rates of participation.  Worse, by lumping garbage collection costs into property taxes, we inadvertently encourage trash and discourage recycling.

Most of what we throw out is not true waste; it’s recyclable or compostable.  So let’s implement a clear and simple provincewide waste diversion program modelled on what works elsewhere.  Given the mélange of programs operating around the province, it will take commitment and investment – but the payoff will be much-extended lives for our current landfills, much better participation rates and jobs in recycling.  Pay for it by raising landfill tipping fees.

4. Strengthen Efficiency NB

It’s well known that investments in energy efficiency pay huge dividends, especially in a world of rising energy prices.  Efficiency NB, established by the Lord government in 2006 for the specific purpose of delivering energy efficiency programs, has undergone significant budget cuts in recent years and has been forced to pare its programs.  

If we are to be serious about energy savings, Efficiency NB’s funding must be restored so it can offer a complete slate of programs to motivate and support NBers.  Pay for it through a small surcharge on power bills.

There are many more possibilities and opportunities – local food, biomass energy, ecotourism and more.  But focusing on these four priorities would at least be a great start.