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Ryan Mitchell is the president and CEO of Saint John Energy. Image: Saint John Energy

Year In Review: Ryan Mitchell On How Saint John Energy Is Preparing For Net-Zero

By Scott Pettigrew Jan 3, 2023 | 8:00 AM

To cap off 2022, Huddle sat down with some of the key figures in Atlantic Canada’s business community – folks representing everyone from tourism operators to energy producers to the startup world.

We asked each to reflect on the challenges, successes, and surprises that most impacted their industries and the lives of Atlantic Canadians this year.

In the latest of several conversations we will bring you before the new year, Huddle reporter Alex Graham chatted with Ryan Mitchell, the president and CEO of Saint John Energy.

His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is the most significant challenge your industry faced in 2022? What impact did it have?

The most significant challenge in the energy sector this year has been the combined impact of the hangover effect of Covid-19, related to supply chain, combined with the energy crisis that’s been brought about by the war in Ukraine.

The primary impact to Saint John Energy has been on the supply chain and the delay side in terms of obtaining pretty much everything, from heat pump parts to the conductor of the wire that we use to connect the wind farm.

We’ve tried to really factor that in, in terms of our planning to anticipate longer lead times and delays just from an engineering and procurement perspective, to make sure we’re really monitoring our inventory levels that we’re getting ahead of it. We’ve also been talking to our vendors and our suppliers to make sure we understand what it looks like for them, just so there’s no surprises.

I found that’s been going really well for us and it served us well in 2022.

Q: What is the coolest thing that happened in your industry in 2022?

I’m not sure if it meets the definition of cool or not, but certainly one of the most significant things that happened this year was the Canadian federal government set a very aggressive target that the electricity sector would be net-zero by 2035.

Canada is already a global leader as it relates to non-emitting electricity on the generation side, with over 80 per cent of the electricity Canadians use coming from non-emitting sources, so this is going to be a challenge, and certainly many utilities are seeking to understand how they might achieve that.

But I believe in 2022 there’s been an increasing realization that the energy transition has significant economic development potential. Businesses and industries that want to green their operations are looking at Canada and its vast natural resources and green energy potential. I think it’s a great opportunity for our province and for the country.

From a Saint John Energy perspective, just one small example of a role that we’ve played within that has been the introduction of the renewable energy certificates that are resulting from the Burchill wind farm.

At a very high level, we issued an RFP, and we had some businesses within our community purchase enough renewable energy certificates to match their electricity consumption. This is just an example of how Saint John Energy can, through the development of renewable energy, support local businesses with an innovative offering as they transition and compete on the global stage.

Q: How do you think your industry most impacted the lives of Atlantic Canadians in 2022?

Well, from an Atlantic Canadian perspective, when thinking about this question, I can’t help but reflect on the impacts that resulted from Hurricane Fiona earlier this year. The storm certainly served to remind us how essential electricity is to our lives and our economy, and I’m so grateful that we are part of the region was not impacted as much as the others.

We were able to send our crews to assist in other parts of New Brunswick before spending weeks in P.E.I. So, this did cause some minor delays with our projects, but you know, helping her neighbours when they’re in need, it’s the Maritime thing to do.

Q: Are the impacts of Covid finally over?

I think Covid has certainly changed how we do business in terms of ensuring that our operations are increasingly resilient and that they can carry on, regardless of the impact, whether that be weather-related or virus-related or something else.

I certainly think that, in addition to Covid, the conflict in Ukraine has also increased our awareness of how important energy independence is and having an increased level of control or self-supply. So, it’s really another benefit associated with the Burchill wind project.

When we combine that with battery storage in Milledgeville, we see that as just adding a level of resiliency and autonomy for operations. And I think that’s a lesson learned coming away from Covid is just to continue to develop that level of self-control.

Q: What is the importance of green energy to Saint John Energy’s ongoing plan?

I would say it’s very important. We’re certainly very focused on it. The Burchill wind project will add 15 per cent of our energy requirement from a local source.

More than 95 per cent of our customers say they support Saint John Energy pursuing the development of renewable energy, so certainly our customers were telling us it’s important to them.

In New Brunswick, we’re starting with a leadership position: 75 to 80 per cent of the electricity generated from non-emitting sources. But we know that the consumption of electricity is going to grow quite significantly as customers continue to transition away from fossil fuels. So we know that more renewable electricity is going to be required to continue to maintain that leadership position. It will continue to be increasingly important for us.

We’re really laser-focused on delivering the Burchill wind project. But, certainly, we have plans immediately following that to assess and just build out a roadmap that will determine what is next.  Although we don’t have any firm plans. We certainly will be looking to solar, wind, and other opportunities like battery storage, as an example. It is something we plan to get to as we start to transition into 2023.

Q: Saint John Energy turned 100 this year, what do you envision for the next hundred years of the utility’s future?

Saint John Energy has been known as a nimble, innovative utility with a bold vision that just finds a way to get things done. I think you should expect that to continue and for Saint John Energy to continue to punch above its weight.

We’re going to focus on maintaining the lowest rates in Atlantic Canada. We want to continue to provide a service that is one of the most reliable in the country, all while being increasingly innovative.

My hope is that Saint John Energy can be viewed as a catalyst for energy innovation. That we can increasingly attract the academic and the startup community to work with us to drive climate change action.

For our community, these advances support the efficient conversion from fossil fuels to electricity through Smart Energy products, like heat pumps, in EV charging, and water heaters. I believe we have a recipe that’s been working for us: we’re going to continue to invest and to put our time and attention toward doing more of that.

Q: What else was important in your industry this year?

One of the things that’s been a very interesting development in the industry and in Atlantic Canada has been green hydrogen. Saint John Energy participates on the Executive Council for the Atlantic Hydrogen Alliance, primarily because we think it’s important to support the transition to net-zero carbon emissions.

There’s a lot of excitement in Atlantic Canada about how the industry might leverage renewable energy resources to produce green hydrogen. We’re plugged into that.  We’re seeking to understand how we might be able to support that, here in Saint John. How that might help the energy transition. How that might result in further economic activity, that would be good for the province, as well as the environment.

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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