Nova Scotia renewable energy policy seriously flawed

By Neal Livingston


Would it surprise you to learn our Nova Scotia government is running a fundamentally flawed process to design our renewable energy policy?

It’s based on the Electricity Market Governance Committee (EMGC) recommendations, a now dated, poorly informed document with a big-business agenda.

In its stead, we should be requiring our government to focus its attention on a renewable energy policy that is public-minded and supportive of broad-based benefits to our society.

Reading about renewable policy in Europe, and then seeing it on the ground, on homes and rooftops and in the air during visits in recent years, it’s obvious by comparison that Nova Scotia’s emerging renewable policy is second-rate. While superficially, the Department of Energy’s 20 per cent renewable energy goal seems laudable, the political focus is business-driven, leaving us with a policy that’s good because we say it is, but not by any real measures of success.

It’s the “Trust us, no worries!” approach: no goals for stringent pollution reduction, or job creation or industrial growth, or energy security or price stabilization. But there is the embedded understanding that cheapest is best, that NSPI’s pollution is a minor matter, and that NSPI’s corporate strength and knowledge are beyond reproach as if a part of our social fabric.

The government summarily dismisses solar as being too costly. How am I to believe this when my solar hot water system paid for itself years ago, and continues to save energy costs and keep me in hot water?

Imagine if by 2012, every home and building in Nova Scotia was retrofitted with solar hot water. There’d be a major reduction in coal-fired electricity use, pollution and greenhouse gases.

And because we produce excellent thermal solar panels right here in Nova Scotia, there’d be hundreds of jobs and multiple community benefits, the sort that are taking place in other jurisdictions worldwide. With a winning approach like this, one wonders what entrenched interests must be keeping politicians from immediately engaging us on this path.

In Germany, feed laws have made it the leading producer and market for solar energy. In Nova Scotia, the government fails to acknowledge that feed laws are the best approach.

We once had this policy in Nova Scotia. In 1990, a URB ruling that took nearly five years to politically achieve made us a leader in renewable energy policy with one of the world’s first feed laws. Sadly, those days are gone. This government is determined that this isn’t how it should be done in Nova Scotia anymore.

The Nova Scotia approach these days is called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs). It allows Nova Scotia Power to buy wind power or other green energy without a regulatory process controlled by the Utility and Review Board, which would ensure fairness in conditions and price. NSPI simply holds an auction or bidding process to see who can sell it this power at the lowest cost.

While great for NSPI, this approach is misguided: Many projects don’t get built because the price is too low and there are few societal benefits such as local ownership, jobs, and manufacturing. This lower price paid by NSPI does not translate into lower rates for the consumer, but it does help to ensure healthy corporate profits at the utility.

Most disturbing of all about the provincial report and consultations on renewable energy policy is that the results were more or less pre-determined, even when it was demonstrated that the choices are not the best ones for the citizens.

Our made-in-Nova Scotia policy will simply choose to ignore that feed laws have been effective in Denmark since the early 1980s, in Germany since 1991 and for more than a decade in Spain, making these countries world leaders in wind, solar and other renewable energy.

Nova Scotia’s new renewables policy also ignores the potential for consumer price shocks for electricity in the future. The centrepiece of the new provincial policy is that large corporate renewable developers will be paid a non-fixed rate based on NSPI’s floating, and forever changing, average cost of power generation.

And what if that average cost rockets up because those dirty coal plants have to shut down? Well, those big renewable players would get huge windfall profits for years to come. “Can’t happen,” says the province, because NSPI will forever be able to carry on its business in a manner which would prevent this.

Sounds risky to me. How about you?

A broad sector of Nova Scotians has called upon government, to no avail, for renewable energy development to be done under feed laws like in Ontario, most of Europe and a number of countries around the world. Renewables get paid a fair, fixed rate on a long-term contract, with conditions determined by an independent regulator like the URB. Then renewable energy production is open to all Nova Scotians and not just big business.

Nova Scotians are keenly interested and aware that our future is intrinsically linked with renewable energy. Without asking, the politicians gave the electrical system away to big business – and our oil and gas, and soon it will be the Bay of Fundy. Public interest isn’t enough to get us the right policy; serious citizen attention to and action on these matters are needed.

Neal Livingston has been involved professionally in renewable energy in Nova Scotia for more than 25 years.