Two environmental groups are slamming the recent agreement allowing Nova Scotia to use coal-fired electrical plants beyond the new federal deadline to phase them out by 2030.
The federal-provincial deal was touted as recognition of the work Nova Scotia has already done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the province having already met the national target of a 30 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 by 2030.
But the Margaree Environmental Association and the Sierra Club Canada-Atlantic said Thursday the agreement would simply keep the province reliant on coal when it could do more to wean itself off fossil fuels faster.
"Many Nova Scotians like us are extremely concerned about the federal-provincial agreement to allow Nova Scotia to continue to burn coal rather than having a plan to shut down coal and pet-coke burning plants as soon as possible," said Gretchen Fitzgerald, the national program director of Sierra Club Canada-Atlantic.
The groups said 80 per cent of the current coal burning capacity in the province could be shut down by 2020 and replaced by more wind and solar power projects, expected power from the Muskrat Falls project in Labrador, and by importing 500 megawatts of power from Quebec.
Neal Livingston, co-chair of the Margaree Environmental Association, said the government has been setting itself up as an environmental leader when it will actually be the last jurisdiction in Canada to continue to burn coal.
The province has previously projected that coal would continue to play some part in its energy mix until 2042, although officials said during last week's announcement that there was no timetable yet for plant closures under the new agreement.
Livingston said the province has skewed its record on greenhouse gases by including 60 megawatts generated by biomass projects, which he says don't produce green energy.
"Premier [Stephen] McNeil also claims that Nova Scotians have already done enough," said Livingston. "Nova Scotia's record is not how he states it."
Last week the province also said it was opting for a cap-and-trade system for industry, although the details wouldn't be worked out until 2018.
Donkin mine's impact on greenhouse gases
Fitzgerald said that would have implications for plans to develop Cape Breton's Donkin mine, which her group opposed during its environmental assessment.
Although proponents have said the goal is to export the mine's coal to foreign markets, Fitzgerald says its operations alone will have an adverse effect on provincial targets for reducing greenhouse gases.
"We looked at 2050 targets … and the operations alone from that project are going to be between eight and 14 per cent of provincial greenhouse gases," she said. "How much are we going to have to offset for that one project to run?"
Following a cabinet meeting Thursday, Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said the mine, which is in his riding, could start small-scale commercial production soon. He said once that happens it would probably take six to eight weeks before the mine ramps up to full production.
Donkin not a long-term operation
MacLellan said the province is mindful that the window is limited for the operation, given the commitment to get off coal in favour of more renewables in future years.
He said while there were talks with Nova Scotia Power about the possibility of burning some of the coal domestically, he hasn't heard any confirmation that will happen.
"There will be a number of years where coal is required for steel production, which is a significant part of that [operation]," said MacLellan. "We won't see a lot of it being burned here over the next number of years but no question there is a market internationally."
MacLellan said he would be meeting with mine officials on Monday to get an update on their plans.