Nova Scotia

Swapping coal for natural gas not a solution, warns Ecology Action Centre

Ottawa is encouraging coal-fired plants to convert to natural gas, which would ensure a baseload of electricity is accessible when wind and solar power and other renewables aren't available.

Nova Scotia is gradually weaning itself off coal but it's unclear what will eventually replace it

Nova Scotia Power and its employees have been working to add wind power to the grid for years in an attempt to ease the transition from coal-fired electricity. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A Halifax-based environmental organization is calling on the Nova Scotia government to make renewable energy its focus as the province slowly weans itself off coal.

Ottawa is encouraging coal-fired plants to convert to natural gas, which would ensure a baseload of electricity is accessible when wind and solar power and other renewables aren't available.

But the Ecology Action Centre said the federal government's suggestion would be a "mistake" — even as a backup.

"We think that would be a mistake in just locking us into burning fossil fuels again for three or four more decades," said Stephen Thomas, the centre's energy campaign co-ordinator.

"It's less true than it was before, too, that we need all the baseload that our system was built on. Things like energy storage and sharing electricity between New Brunswick and Newfoundland are all things that are much more possible than they were before."

Stephen Thomas of the Ecology Action Centre says renewable energy is expected to create more jobs than will be lost when coal is finally phased out. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The federal government finalized regulations Wednesday to phase out coal-fired electricity in four provinces by 2030: Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The plan was first announced in 2016.

Nova Scotia, however, has an equivalency agreement that allows coal to be used beyond that date. 

"By 2030, that would not be based on our baseload," Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters after cabinet Thursday.

"That would be based on the extreme days that we would have where we would be required to ramp up to meet our full capacity."

A spokesperson for the Environment Department said now that the federal regulations have been finalized, a new equivalency agreement will be negotiated.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says even after it's phased out elsewhere, some coal will be burned for electricity to meet demand on days when wind and other renewable energy sources aren't sufficient. (Robert Short/CBC News)

It's not clear what will replace coal once it is phased out entirely.

In the meantime, the province has to find other ways to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Thomas said renewable energy would create more jobs than will be lost when coal is phased out, and governments would also save money on pollution controls and health-care costs.

Nova Scotia Power and its unionized employees have already begun phasing out some jobs at coal-fired plants.

The utility plans to shut down one of four coal-burning units at the Lingan plant in Cape Breton as soon as hydroelectricity starts to flow from Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That power is expected in 2020, further reducing Nova Scotia's greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the proportion of renewable energy to 40 per cent of all electricity sources, according to the power company.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

With files from Michael Gorman