Too optimistic about Nova Scotia

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From Larry Hughes, PhD Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

As a resident of Nova Scotia and someone who is familiar with Nova Scotia's energy strategy, I was surprised to read your optimistic report (Nova Scotia sets renewables target, February 2002).

The report is based upon the provincial energy strategy document, Seizing the Opportunity, from December 2001. Seizing the Opportunity consists of two volumes: a 50-page overview and a 288-page examination of the proposed provincial energy strategy. The document's primary focus is on offshore oil and gas.

Given the background of the selected energy experts (almost all were from the petroleum sector) and the precarious state of the province's finances (the province is over C$11 billion in debt), this focus should not be surprising. Other issues, such as renewable energy, climate change, and transportation, are given cursory treatment. For example, of the document's 288 pages, 15 pages are devoted to renewables. In fact, most of the section on renewables is superficial and describes technologies as opposed to proposing means whereby they will be introduced into the province.

The basis for your optimism appears to come from the statement in the energy strategy document that 2.5% of installed electrical generating capacity will come from renewables. The 2.5% figure is based upon the announcement by the province's monopoly utility, NS Power, that it wanted 50 MW of installed wind generation capacity from independent power producers. The announcement, made in July 2001, happened to coincide with the provincial government's final, closed-door meeting with energy experts planning the provincial energy strategy.

In early 2002, NS Power announced it had changed its 50 MW of installed wind capacity to 100 GWh. A subtle word play -- meaning they were now asking for about 35 MW of wind capacity. The remaining 15% is to be obtained from "other renewables." By last month, NS Power had yet to announce the group (or groups) who have been selected as the winning operators.

RPS plans

The energy strategy also mentions the provincial government's plans for adopting a renewables portfolio standard. Rather than giving NS Power a target, the energy strategy's approach is to let NS Power run a "green power" program for three years; if the program is successful, a renewables portfolio standard might be adopted. Since the release of the energy strategy, NS Power has announced its green power program -- a premium of C$0.04 a kilowatt hour. Furthermore, according to the green power program, the electricity need not be purchased from green electrical sources in Nova Scotia!

You also quote the president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, Guy Painchaud, saying that the Nova Scotia government has set the stage to capitalise on wind energy. The fact that the provincial government is funding petroleum education programs (while allowing courses in electrical power to be shutdown) does not bode well for wind energy in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia could demonstrate the benefits of renewable energy to Canada and the rest of the world. Sadly, the estimated 20 trillion cubic feet of offshore natural gas is blinding the local politicians of this fact.

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