Cuts to Carbon Emissions must Be Greater, Faster

Cuts to Carbon Emissions must be Greater, Faster

As published in the Victoria Standard: January 16, 2019.

Delegates at the recent UN Climate Summit in Poland received a stark warning from elite investment fund managers about the dire need to cut carbon emissions and eliminate coal-fired power generation to protect the global financial system. The Investor Agenda lobby group represents 415 global investment firms managing over $32 trillion.

The investor lobbyist’s sudden and public concerns are noteworthy since investment firms are dedicated to maximizing financial returns under regulatory and tax regimes that have long ignored environmental hazards. They stated that the interconnected global financial system ensures that everyone doing business with banks or investment houses will somehow be affected by climate change.

Thankfully, oil-rich Alberta is now embracing renewable energy. Capstone Infrastructure’s proposed 48 megawatt wind farm southwest of Calgary will support Alberta’s plan to derive 30 percent of the province’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The Alberta government has introduced competitive auctions to determine the rates paid to energy providers, unlike Nova Scotia where the government pays set rates.

However, Emera company Nova Scotia Power has introduced a three-year solar energy pilot project to assist community groups who wish to generate solar electricity and sell it to the provincial grid under a competitive bid process involving 20 year deals. As well, individuals who install solar technology are eligible for rebates.

According to the 2016 National Energy Board figures, Nova Scotia derived most of its energy from non-renewable sources like coal/pet coke, (64 percent) natural gas (13 percent) and imported energy (3 per cent) compared to 20 percent renewables. This differs from the current Emera figures of 65 per cent coal/pet coke, 12 per cent natural gas and 7 per cent imported with 14 per cent renewables. While even 2018 National Energy Board figures are unavailable, the above figures seem to contradict the Nova Scotia’s official goals of “25 per cent renewable electricity supply by 2015.”

Provincial officials claim that the province’s power grid cannot absorb any more wind-generated power since it requires what Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan calls a “confirmed, stable source” like coal and pet coke, a high-sulphur bitumen derivative imported from Alberta’s oil sands. While pet coke is economical and generates great amounts of heat, its use also requires sophisticated means of toxic waste management.

While the storage capacity of Nova Scotia’s power grid is currently incapable of matching its vast wind energy potential, the Liberal government does acknowledges the benefits of renewables. Unfortunately, the province’s continued and extensive use of hydrocarbon energy sources is protected by a federal government exemption. This exemption allows the provincial government to continue its slow reduction of carbon-based electricity production in apparent denial of the dangers. By comparison, while Ontario Premier Doug Ford cancelled 758 green energy projects, Canada’s most populous province previously scrapped its coal-fired power plants and is unlikely to build new ones.

Further complicating matters is Nova Scotia’s failure to adequately address technological and size limitations in the grid itself by applying restrictive market principles rather than investing public funds for the public good. Instead of accepting the expense of modernizing and expanding storage capacity in the province’s power grid, the Liberal government seems content with green energy from Emera’s proposed Maritime wind projects flowing south to the United States.

At the same time, Nova Scotia may soon be importing, processing and exporting fracked natural gas from both Canadian and U.S. sources. Both the Marcelus Shale formation in the North Eastern U.S. and New Brunswick’s Frederick Brook shale projects face ongoing opposition from First Nations and others who fear air pollution and ground water contamination.

While Nova Scotia’s offshore Sable Island and Deep Panuke gas wells are due for capping in 2020, the future of undersea exploration is facing competition from hydraulic fracking companies eager to exploit Nova Scotia’s many shale formations. Many see this as an attractive alternative to importing U.S. natural gas, an increasing practice as offshore production gradually ceases.

The proposed LNG (liquid natural gas) facilities at Goldboro Nova Scotia and Point Cape Breton’s Point Tupper, primarily designed to import, process and export U.S. fracked gas from Massachusetts, demonstrate the government’s willingness to prioritize hydrocarbon infrastructure over investing in renewables. Such short-term policies are inevitably linked to the political cycle with its campaign promises of employment and secondary economic benefits.

While Nova Scotia’s slowly weans itself off hydrocarbon energy, the province’s abundant wind, tidal and solar resources offer a safe and permanent alternative. Since the province chooses to support natural gas projects with funding and tax incentives, could it not also assist those eager to expand and upgrade the energy grid’s storage capacity? Perhaps Premier McNeil‘s government might consult the Investor Agenda group about the business case for human survival. They obviously know something his government either hasn’t learned or chooses to ignore.