Nova Scotia environment minister hopes Harper-era emissions deal stays

Nova Scotia says a side deal it signed with the Harper government four years ago, mandating pollution reduction targets, should satisfy any federal plan for carbon pricing.

'We are already leaders in greenhouse gas reductions,' says Margaret Miller

Environment Minister Margaret Miller says she hopes an environment deal signed under the Harper government will stand. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia government says a side deal it signed with the Harper government four years ago, mandating pollution reduction targets, should satisfy any federal plan for carbon pricing.

The province's environment minister, Margaret Miller, will make that case in a meeting Tuesday with federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

McKenna is in Halifax to meet with Atlantic environment ministers.

"It doesn't make sense to change how we are doing things when what we are doing is working so well," Miller said Monday.

Hopes deals will stand

Nova Scotia wants Ottawa to continue an "equivalency agreement" signed in 2012 by the Harper Conservative government.

It exempted Nova Scotia from federal timelines to close coal-fired electricity plants, provided the province committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2020, with a cap of 7.5 million tonnes.

The deal also required 40 per cent of all electricity be generated from renewable sources by 2020.

Miller said the current federal Liberal government has not confirmed it will maintain the agreement signed by then federal Environment Minister Peter Kent and a former NDP government in Halifax. 

"It is something we do want to discuss," she said. "This is what I will be having a bilateral conversation with the minister. That will be on the top of my priority list."

Highest electricity rates

Miller said Nova Scotia is already paying for pollution reduction in the form of the highest electricity rates in Canada. She said those rates reflect the higher cost of electricity generated by renewable wind power. Almost 300 commercial wind turbines are producing electricity in the province.

"We want to make sure that we have that flexibility to be able to continue. We are already leaders in greenhouse gas reductions. We have already been doing the work and our power rates show that," she said.

"We want to make sure that is recognized and we can move forward with a flexible, made in Nova Scotia approach."

Coal use decreasing

McKenna's office said the federal government understands the need for flexibility, and that options on how to price pollution will be discussed in Halifax.

At a March meeting in Vancouver, premiers agreed to carbon pricing, with the details to be worked out. 

Nova Scotia still burns coal to generate most of its electricity, but that is changing.

According to a 2015 provincial review, in 2013, 64 percent of electricity came from coal. By 2020, that is expected to drop to 21 per cent, the review said.

Wind not easy

The transition has not been easy.

The high cost of wind power and its impact on rates was a key reason why, in 2015, the Nova Scotia government cancelled a program to promote small scale wind projects.

The community feed in tariff, known as COMFIT, paid producers 14 cents a kilowatt hour on average, more than twice the cost of other generation. The government program guaranteed small-scale energy producers a sustainable fee for their electricity. By the time it was cancelled, COMFIT cost Nova Scotia Power customers $83 million a year. According to evidence filed by Nova Scotia Power, the original estimate was about $7 million.

The province's green strategy also looks to hydro electricity from Muskrat Falls, N.L., but the project has been hit by delays and ballooning budgets.

Muskrat Falls problems

The arrival of Labrador hydro has been pushed back by two years to the spring of 2019. Miller insisted the delays will not impact Nova Scotia's ability to meet pollution targets.

However, she did not justify the claim, and the Nova Scotia Department of Energy did not explain it either.

Nova Scotia Power holds a virtual monopoly on electricity in the province. The regulated utility serves about 500,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers.

About the Author

Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.