Nova Scotia

New report provides 'pathway' to get Nova Scotia off coal by 2030

An expert in sustainable electricity says it's possible to wean Nova Scotia completely off coal by the year 2030, and doing so could almost pay for itself.

'We've known that this is technically possible for a long time,' Ecology Action Centre says

A miner holds coal running through a processing plant in Welch, W.Va., on Oct. 6, 2015. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

An expert in sustainable electricity says it's possible to wean Nova Scotia completely off coal by the year 2030, and doing so could almost pay for itself.

But the plan would entail a massive public investment in energy-efficiency measures, an aggressive expansion of wind power and a second power link to New Brunswick to import hydroelectric power from Quebec.

"We've known that this is technically possible for a long time," said Stephen Thomas, energy campaign co-ordinator for the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, which commissioned the report.

"But what's exciting about this is that it's the first report of its kind that clearly shows the pathway for how it's possible here in Nova Scotia and how it's achievable.

"So this is compelling, this is realistic and we're kind of at this point running out of excuses for not having this sort of ambition reflected in how we plan our electricity system here."

How to get a nearly carbon-free energy grid

The Ecology Action Centre spent more than $20,000 to hire Ralph Torrie of Torrie Smith Associates in Cobourg, Ont., to calculate the cost of having 90 per cent of Nova Scotia's electricity come from renewables by 2030.

Torrie has four decades of experience helping guide large jurisdictions toward more sustainable energy use.

"It's an emergency response now. In the old days ... we would do these kinds of renewable energy and safe-energy studies with the view that we had lots of time to make the transition. But now we don't," Torrie said.

He said Nova Scotia is notable because it uses a higher proportion of coal power than any province, except Saskatchewan and Alberta.

But at the same time, Nova Scotia generates the highest proportion of wind energy after P.E.I.

Aggressive measures

Torrie's report outlines an aggressive transition for the province over the next decade.

This would include:

  • "Deep-energy retrofits" for 80 per cent of homes and commercial buildings, which would help reduce power consumption by seven per cent of current levels.
  • Forty per cent of personal vehicles being either fully electric or plug-in hybrid cars.
  • Doubling the province's wind power capacity.
  • Increases in solar power.
  • Building a second transmission link to New Brunswick, which would allow greater reliance on hydro power from Quebec.

Torries said the cost of making these changes and the corresponding savings would almost net out.

He said the annual costs would be approximately $1.6 billion a year, but the money saved from not using coal, reducing gasoline consumption and other measures would amount to roughly $1.4 billion per year.

He believes those costs should be financed over two decades, the same way governments and the private sector pay for large infrastructure projects.

Major home improvements

Torrie said it's vital to increase the energy efficiency of buildings to prevent a renewable-energy grid from getting overwhelmed. That would involve transitioning many homes from oil heat to heat pumps, and bolstering insulation.

He said increasing the energy efficiency of a typical Nova Scotia home would cost approximately $40,000.

Torrie suggests the government could pay for those costs up front, leaving homeowners to pay back the loan via property taxes.

"I don't think the homeowner should have to put up any of the money. We don't do that for power plants, so we shouldn't have to do it for energy efficiency," he said.

Torrie also believes the costs could drop by half if it becomes a large-scale effort.

"If we can mount the kind of intensive effort it's going to take to respond to the climate emergency ... the costs will come tumbling down once we are underway. Because we'll be buying millions of windows, we will be buying tens of thousands of heat pumps," he said.

What the province had to say

The provincial government issued a statement thanking the Ecology Action Centre for the report, but would not comment on it.

"The department will be reviewing a wide range of materials, including this report, and consulting with Nova Scotians as we produce our new climate change strategy in 2020," said Energy Department spokesperson Rachel Boomer in an emailed statement.

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