Northern pipeline a sure thing if gas-fired power plant is built

Lisa Hrabluk
The Telegraph Journal
April 22, 1998

SAINT JOHN – The company building the Sable Island pipeline says a lateral line to Northern New Brunswick will likely happen if NB Power can hammer out an agreement with a Belgium-based power company that wants to build a power generation plant in Belledune.

Although a complete economic analysis of the proposed Tractebel natural gas generating facility still needs to be completed, Mike Whalen of Maritime and Northeast Pipeline says initial estimates of consumption rates are encouraging.

“A power plant of that size with that much gas requirements would certainly be the anchor load that everybody has been looking for to justify a lateral to the Belledune area,” Mr. Whalen said.

“Certainly it is a positive step in the right direction and we are happy to hear about it,” Mr. Whalen said.

Representatives with Maritime and Northeast Pipeline have long stated they will build a lateral pipeline to New Brunswick’s north shore if a significant market can be found.

Now it looks like they might have that market base.

Tractebel, a Belgium-based $14.7-billion multinational, has signed a memorandum of understanding with NB Power to build a privately owned natural gas power plant in Belledune, a small village of 2,200 on the shores of Chaleur Bay.

The plant, valued between $150- and $200-million, would use 50-million cubic feet of natural gas every day, the equivalent of 50,000 homes.

Andy Flanagan, the mayor of Belledune, is thrilled to hear natural gas may soon be heading north.

While he thinks the generation plant will be a wonderful addition to his small village’s tax base, he’s even more excited that his constituents may finally have the same energy choices as Southern New Brunswick residents.

“We’d be on an even keel with the rest of the country that has natural gas,” he said, adding that natural gas would help the north shore attract businesses to the region.

Natural Resources Minister Alan Graham said NB Power and Tractebel representatives will spend the next four months closely examining the project to determine if indeed it is feasible.

He estimates Tractebel will spend approximately $1-million to complete the study that will likely examine transmission line access, natural gas access, tolling rates and the availability of existing industrial infrastructure.

What Belledune has to offer is the foundation of an unused unit built next to the existing plant that represents $20-million worth of construction.

Mr. Graham said he has been working to bring projects like the Tractebel proposal to New Brunswick so the province will be able to to capitalize on natural gas.

According to Mr. Graham, most of the money to be made from the natural gas pipeline will be made through generation plants that sell power to a growing American market looking for new forms of energy.

“If we don’t get some projects built in New Brunswick they are certainly going to get built in Maine or New Hampshire or Massachusetts because that’s where most of the gas is going to go,” he said.

Supposing that the Be lgium utility does build in Belledune it will continue the company’s aggressive expansion plans in North America.

Last January Tractebel Power Inc., the company’s North American subsidiary added three acquisitions to its growing list of power generating facilities.

Officials with Canadian subsidiary Tractebel Canada Inc. increased its ownership in a Windsor, Ont., natural gas-powered cogeneration plant, to 98 per cent.

In the U.S., Tractebel Power and Florida Power and Light Group formed a equal partnership and purchased gas fired combined-cycle facilities in Bellingham, Mass., and in Sayreville, N.J.

The company also bought a cogeneration facility in San Gabriel, Calif.

In addition Tractebel is also developing power generating facilities in Mississippi and New Hampshire.

Tom Adams, the executive director of utility watchdog Energy Probe predicts that Tractebel won’t be the only company to come calling in New Brunswick as the arrival date for Sable Island’s natural gas draws closer.

“I think its safe to assume this is going to be the first of many,” he said.

Mr. Adams has watched Tractebel increase its holdings in the United States to its current 16 plants and he says the company’s interest in the Belledune site signals how important Sable Island gas is to the American market.

“Tractebel, because it has several facilities in operation, is in an excellent position to know where the market is going in New England.”

And Mr. Adams, long a critic of the way NB Power has managed its nuclear and coal generation plants, believes Tractebel may be able to capitalize on its new partner’s continuing problems. at its Point Lepreau nuclear generating plant.

“With all the difficulties NB Power is having at Lepreau and the very significant dependance New Brunswick has on Lepreau’s output, if those difficulties continue some of this power [from Tractebel] might be needed in New Brunswick.”

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