On Sunday, Oct. 3, a group of 12 randomly selected New Brunswickers created a vision for a future electrical energy system for the province. The group was part of the New Brunswick Electrical Energy Futures Jury, and the “jurors” were charged with representing the best interests of all New Brunswickers as they worked by consensus to create an electrical energy scenario for the 2040.
The deliberating jurors also crafted a letter to the Minister of Energy and Mines outlining their preferences and the reasons for them. The group would like to see a much greater mix of renewable sources of electricity 25 years in the future. In particular they see great potential for solar and tidal power, in addition to renewable sources that are already online such as hydro, wind and biomass. The panel still sees a role for nuclear power and some fossil fuels, though they favour high efficiency natural gas combined cycle over coal and petroleum products. Ultimately, they recommended to the minister that we reduce our reliance on nuclear and fossil fuel sources by 2040.
The exercise was part of a research project conducted by a team of researchers from the University of New Brunswick, the University of Alberta and Dalhousie University. The essence of the experiment was to examine whether the preferences of participants changed when they were subjected to a crash course of information on the electrical energy system, and factors that might affect future supply and demand. The experiment also tested the effect of a group deliberation on the collective recommendation. Participants were charged with arriving at a consensus statement about the electrical energy system that they believe we should strive for in the year 2040, so a long-term vision.
The event spanned three days. Friday evening consisted of an orientation and initial assessment of individual preferences, knowledge, beliefs and values. Saturday the jury was given detailed presentations by NB Power staff, researchers, including a professor from UNB engineering, an energy consultant, and individuals representing environmental groups. These experts described the current system of electrical power generation, transmission and distribution, shared their views about future demand and technologies that may be available in 2040 and described national and global context affecting New Brunswick such as climate change. They also answered detailed questions from the jury.
According to Tom Beckley, UNB professor in the faculty of forestry and coordinator for the project, the purpose was to examine the effect of both rapid education and deliberation. “Experts are often wary of engaging the public because they consider them poorly informed, and also prone to representing specific stakeholder interests rather than advocating for the public good,” said Dr. Beckley. “This experiment allowed us to test the degree of difference of opinion between an educated and uneducated public, and the degree to which a deliberated, consensus outcome differs from the average of individual responses.”
Results from the weekend event will be presented to both the Department of Energy and Mines, and to NB Power.