Natural gas grabs toehold in province

Cavendish Farms’ decision to import natural gas to save energy costs will be closely watched by Islanders

Published on April 21, 2011
Robert Irving, president of Cavendish Farms, was on hand Monday to announce the plant's plans to use natural gas.
S. Ryan Quigley/Journal Pioneer

Natural gas suddenly seems to be the new energy darling of the Maritimes. A day after Cavendish Farms and the P.E.I. government announced plans Monday to switch the potato processing company’s New Annan plant to natural gas by the end of this year, the New Brunswick energy commission recommended that natural gas be promoted as the key source of energy until the province can move to renewable sources.

This is a remarkable switch in emphasis to this clean but non-renewable energy source. Wind energy, long the cornerstone of Prince Edward Island’s renewable energy emphasis, seems to be taking a back seat in this rush to embrace natural gas. It wasn’t that long ago that Jamie Ballem endorsed just such a scenario during his failed leadership campaign for the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative party.

Ballem outlined an energy strategy combining natural gas and wind power as the best solution to easing P.E.I.’s dependence on buying N.B. electricity, generated largely by oil-fired generators until the nuclear-powered Pt. Lepreau station finally comes back on line after a prolonged shutdown.

The New Brunswick government wants to cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions with a switch to natural gas. It could have had access to cheaper, clean Quebec Hydro power but the people of  New Brunswick voted a resounding no to that idea.

Cavendish officials say they hope to cut production costs by 30 per cent and greenhouse gas emissions by 28 per cent. It's also eliminating the use of 29 million litres of heavy oil per year. The company also says the switch would be good for both business and the environment and reduces its carbon footprint while making the plant more competitive.

The P.E.I. government cannot be faulted for providing a $15-million loan to help build a receiving station for the natural gas, which is to be transported by truck from the nearby Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline location near Port Elgin, N.B.

The Irvings always pay their bills and provide a lot of jobs for Islanders.

This move will create employment, while keeping manufacturing jobs and plants open on Prince Edward Island. The natural gas idea might also make things more attractive for McCain Foods to keep its potato processing plant in Borden open and become more efficient and competitive.

The construction of an underwater gas pipeline to P.E.I. from the Port Elgin spur is too prohibitive at this time. But that also accentuates the need for a new submarine power cable across the Northumberland Strait to replace two aging cables nearing the end of their life spans to ensure P.E.I.'s energy needs are met.

P.E.I. Energy Minister Richard Brown says he is excited about the gas project because it provides the first step in getting natural gas flowing into the province. A gas pipeline might not be economical now, but it certainly holds out promise for the future if additional businesses and homeowners warm up to the idea. Until then the decision by Cavendish Farms to truck the gas in will prove to be a useful example of whether natural gas can play a key role in Prince Edward Island’s energy future.