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NB Power CEO Gaetan Thomas, left, and Ed Barrett, chairman of NB Power board of directors, take part in a press conference north of Fredericton, on Dec. 20, 2016.

James West/The Globe and Mail

New Brunswick's Crown-owned power utility will spend up to $7-million to find a new fuel source for its Belledune coal-fired generating station – with the aim of eliminating coal by 2030.

Energy and Resource Development Minister Rick Doucet said NB Power will look at alternatives such as hydrogen, biomass and natural gas.

"We all owe it to our future generations, our children, and our grandchildren to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from occurring," Doucet said Wednesday.

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The provincial government first announced its intention to eliminate coal last year, but Doucet said they now have the plan to move forward. He said the large Belledune plant, which employs 110 people, is worth keeping.

"Given the infrastructure that's there, it makes sense to identify a new source of fuel to keep the plant operating for decades to come," Doucet said.

Gaetan Thomas, president of NB Power, said the Belledune plant has been extremely reliable and versatile.

"It operates at 80 per cent capacity on average annually with some in reserves, especially during peak winter conditions," he said.

Thomas said the projected lifespan for the Belledune plant is 2043, but that could be extended by a couple of decades with a different fuel source.

Thomas said he's excited about the possibility of using hydrogen which would be extracted from sea water, adding that New Brunswick has lots of sea water and it's a cheap fuel source.

He said New Brunswick could be on the leading edge of new technology.

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"It could become a commodity that will be needed for other similar plants in North America – and many other utilities facing the same challenges, will be looking at us to meet their greenhouse gas targets also moving forward," Thomas said.

He said the utility has ample time to find a solution that will have minimal impact on power rates.

Lois Corbett, executive director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, says she takes a lot of heart from the announcement.

"It will make a significant contribution to the New Brunswick Climate Change Action Plan and it will certainly help the federal government on its path to make Canada coal-free by 2030," she said.

Corbett said other utilities have already had some success in converting old coal-fired plants, noting one in Thunder Bay, Ont., has been converted to biomass.

In 2015 there were 30 coal-fired power plants in Canada – 18 in Alberta, seven in Saskatchewan, four in Nova Scotia and one in New Brunswick.

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