What the Mactaquac Dam says (or doesn’t say) about our view of the future

If you read the history of New Brunswick’s big electricity generation projects you will find they were meant to facilitate economic growth.  Going back to the 1920s, the main rationale given for big public investment in power projects was to facilitate economic development – heavily related to forestry but also mining and urban growth.

The same applies to the Mactaquac dam.  It was a key reason why the Nackawic Pulp Mill was built in 1970.

That was then.  This is now.

Most of the discussion now is about how we won`t have any need for Mactaquac power in the future.

Whereas throughout the 1900s the rise in power generation was a driver of economic growth in the 2000s the closure of generation plants and the decline in power will come as  a reaction to decline.

Now of course no narrative is ever so neat and tidy.  We now focus more on energy efficiency.  We want to reduce our energy footprint per dollar of GDP.  We want the energy we produce to be cleaner and less hard on the environment.  Maybe we will move more towards distributed generation.  Who knows?

For some the Mactaquac dam is an ideal source of power because of no carbon emission and the huge disruption that comes from the initial development of hydro power is done.  A new ecosystem has developed that would be disrupted again if we tried to remediate the Mactaquac dam back to 1960.

But I still can`t avoid that nagging feeling that this is just part of the NB decline narrative.  Like the folks in the Department of Finance warning universities and colleges they will need to downsize their expectations.  Or the whole narrative about austerity.  It`s a culture of decline.

Yet few have thought through how continuing decline will fully impact our province.

Those who like the idea of a slow paced, retirement-focused New Brunswick where Sunday afternoon drives through the rolling hills are the week`s highlight haven`t thought through the sustainability of that vision.

I have never argued for massive growth but if we get to the point where decline is acceptable then we have to think about the implications and what we are prepared to sacrifice to support that decline.