N.B. Power spent $4.6M on failed Moncton ‘smart community’ subdivision

N.B. Power spent .6M on failed Moncton ‘smart community’ subdivision

NB Power says it spent about $4.6 million on a failed plan it hoped would be the province’s first solar-powered subdivision in Moncton.

The figure over a four-year period will be released in last month’s response to a series of questions from the Energy and Utilities Board as part of NB Power’s proposal to increase electricity tariffs by 8.9 percent.

Marc Belliveau, a spokesman for the utility, declined to answer questions about how the money was spent due to the ongoing tariff application.

The Board will hear the motion in Fredericton beginning February 13.

Plan emerged in 2020

Initial details of the North Branch’s smart community plan emerged during a 2020 NB Power hearing.

The utility had partnered with a local developer who would build the homes and Siemens Canada in a proposed self-sufficient neighborhood west of McLaughlin Road.

Details were vague, and landowners in the area said they were unaware of the plan. City officials said at the time no request for such a subdivision had been made.

The deal with Siemens called for the construction of 100 high-efficiency “near-net-zero” homes over three years in a single neighborhood that would act as an experimental “microgrid” for the utility to study.

Every home should have solar panels, storage batteries, electric vehicle chargers, and technology installed largely at the expense of the utility company.

In 2020, the utility had budgeted $10.9 million for the project. Federal funds should offset part of the cost.

But last year Brent Staeben, the utility’s Smart Grid Atlantic director, told CBC the plan had been abandoned.

“Unfortunately, developer Solaire Homes was unable to build enough homes for NB Power and Siemens to conduct the research we intended,” Staeben wrote in an email.

A document submitted as part of the rate hike request says Siemens was able to build hardware for the project, but the builder was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing supply chain issues and additional material costs.

Instead, it’s focusing its research on a project in Shediac, where hundreds of customers are testing different technologies and a solar farm has been built.

The application documents indicate that the Company expects to spend $18.7 million over four years on the Shediac project.

Subdivision Moncton isn’t the utility’s only “smart community” venture that hasn’t panned out.

Another plan was to work with a First Nations community to build a solar farm, install a battery bank, and install “smart” technology like thermostats and water heaters in various homes.

While NB Power had an agreement in principle with a First Nations community, documents filed last fall said a community referendum was required.

The filing says the referendum did not happen and the utility was not given a new agreement to proceed. The document does not name the municipality.

There are no expenses for this plan listed in the rate application documents.

The City of Moncton has been seeking development in an area known as the Vision Lands for years. (Moncton City)

The North Branch subdivision in Moncton was planned in the so-called Vision Lands.

The Vision Lands encompass approximately 1,400 acres of largely undeveloped land bounded by Mapleton Road, the Trans-Canada Highway, McLaughlin Road and Wheeler Boulevard.

For decades, the city has been trying to develop the area.

Local planners are now updating plans for the area in consultation with property owners.

Among the ideas under consideration is a regional park. Moncton City Councilors recently approved spending $150,000 for a consultant investigating the idea.

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold has said she would like the city to consider a national urban park in the Vision Lands.

Bill Budd, the city’s director of planning and development, said it will likely be well into 2024 before the city has the results of the Vision Land studies.

Briefing Morning – Moncton9:41Moncton is investigating the creation of a new Vision Lands regional park

Josh Adams is the lead planner for the City of Moncton.

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