Nova Scotia

What phasing out coal means for Nova Scotia to be investigated by task force

A federal task force is in Nova Scotia this week asking for input on how to ease the potential impact of phasing out coal as an energy producer.

Nova Scotia Power and its union say they are already preparing for less coal-fired electricity

Nova Scotia Power started burning Donkin coal on a regular basis earlier this week after testing it for more than a year. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Phasing out coal-fired electricity is expected to cost some jobs and disrupt some communities across the country, but the effects are likely to be minimal in Nova Scotia, according to the local power company and its union.

Representatives of Nova Scotia Power and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers say they have been working together for years to smooth the transition for employees as the utility has added wind power to the grid and prepared for hydroelectricity from the Muskrat Falls project in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The federal Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities is in Nova Scotia this week looking into the potential impact of phasing out coal.

It is also looking into conditions in Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where coal still generates a significant amount of power.

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 away from coal-fired electricity. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Jim Sponagle, business manager for IBEW Local 1928, which represents a wide variety of workers at Nova Scotia Power, said the union doesn't have a specific message for the task force.

The employees have helped the company mitigate potential job losses through bumping rights, severance provisions and retraining for other work, he said.

"It's been something that's been going on for a long time," Sponagle said. "There's been lots of communication over transitioning to renewable energies, so it's not like it's a panic out there."

Over the past five years, the addition of renewable energy has only reduced the workforce by about a dozen positions, he said, and the impact isn't expected to get much greater over the next decade.

Workers move coal at the Provincial Energy Ventures pier on Sydney Harbour. Nova Scotia Power says it will be burning some coal well into the future. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Mark Sidebottom, Nova Scotia Power's chief operating officer, said the company will be able to use coal plants as a backup into the future and has been increasing renewable energy for some time.

"With the transition of coal to clean, where there isn't a specific birthday on a coal plant, it allows for very planful transition of skills and a smooth transition out of one type of industry and into another," he said.

With the anticipated arrival of power from Muskrat Falls, the utility had planned to shut down one coal-fired unit at the Lingan generating station in Cape Breton, Sidebottom said.

But the delay in electricity from Newfoundland has put that off until 2020.

Even after that, the job losses are expected to be minimal, Sidebottom said.

There are about 300 wind turbines in the province producing electricity, says Mark Sidebottom, Nova Scotia Power's chief operating officer. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"That's already in our plan and we're working very closely with our employees and the IBEW and making sure that we set ourselves up so that people aren't, in fact, affected on that front," he said.

For example, there are about 300 wind turbines in the province and their maintenance requires a new workforce with a new set of skills, Sidebottom said.

The federal task force is holding a public meeting Thursday from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.

Hassan Yussuff is president of the Canadian Labour Congress and co-chair of the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities. (canadianlabour.ca)

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress and a co-chair of the federal task force, said recommendations are due by the end of the year and are likely to vary depending on the province.

"Any disruption in employment is always going to create some stress in people's lives," he said. "But can we do it in a way that's much more humane and much more cognizant of the fact that you have to take care of workers and the community in that context?

"Sometimes these things are easily talked about, but not necessarily easily achieved, and we're hoping our work and the information we're receiving and documenting can lead to a much smoother appreciation of what can be done in the transition period."

Read more stories at CBC Nova Scotia 

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.