Blown opportunity

Tim Bousquet asks why Halifax is being denied access to perfectly good wind power.

When it comes to addressing greenhouse gas production, the city of Halifax is starting to get it right. It’s the province that’s still getting it wrong.

In August the city announced it wanted 20 percent of the electricity it uses—21 gigawatt hours annually, enough to power the city’s streetlights—to come from renewable sources, and asked renewable energy producers to submit proposals to meet that demand.

Four local wind generation companies submitted bids, and next month city council will pick one to supply green energy.

Let’s not get too free with our praise —the city is not meeting the Kyoto objective of a five percent reduction in GHG production from 1990 levels. Instead, the city’s plan calls for a 20 percent GHG reduction from 2002 levels. Changing the starting line from 1990 to 2002 allows for the tremendous increase in GHG production over the intervening years to be ignored.

Moreover, say city officials, the city government’s contribution to GHG—110 tonnes annually—is miniscule compared to the total produced by all businesses, houses and commuters in the city—about seven million tonnes annually.

Still, the city’s green energy proposal is a rare example of seemingly unlimited political rhetoric about the global warming problem being matched by concrete action.

Too bad the plan will be put on hold as soon as it’s adopted, thanks to the provincial government.

In 2001 Nova Scotia signed on to the New England Governors/Eastern Canadian Premiers’ Climate Action Plan, which called for a reduction in GHG production to 1990 levels by 2010. The plan predicted that if nothing was done, GHG production would increase by 20 percent by 2010 and, sure enough, Nova Scotia now has a 16 percent increase.

Specific to electrical production, the province formed the Electricity Marketplace Governance Committee, bringing together high-priced consultants, industry representatives, politicians and advocates to figure out how to increase the production of green power.

In 2003 that committee recommended that green energy producers be allowed to sell directly to willing buyers, bypassing the Nova Scotia Power middleman.

But three consecutive Conservative governments have dawdled, and the province has yet to enact the regulations needed to make direct sale of energy from producers to buyers possible. The city’s plan to buy green power must wait until the province re-writes the rules.

Demonstrating the province’s unwillingness to implement the rule changes, energy minister Bill Dooks recently told the CBC he has no intention of breaking NSP’s monopoly on power distribution, and flippantly dismissed wind power, saying “what happens if the wind stops blowing?”

One may as well ask what happens after melting icecaps raise ocean levels above NSP’s coal plants.

Wind energy is proven technology, and last year there was a US $14 billion global market in wind energy. Countries around the world are making use of wind—Denmark produces 20 percent of its electricity from wind, Spain eight percent, Germany five percent.

Nova Scotia has tremendous potential for wind power, and the wind industry argues that Canada as a whole could easily match Denmark’s performance, were the political will present. But, in Nova Scotia anyway, it’s not.

So, will the city sign a contract with a wind company for power that provincial rules prohibit it from delivering?

Stephen King, who is overseeing the city’s efforts, is ever the diplomat. “Are you asking me if we’re putting people’s feet to the fire? I prefer to see it as a catalyst to open some eyes about possibilities.”

And there it sits: the city attempting to take real steps to address global warming, frustrated by provincial pols, who are evidently more concerned about protecting NSP’s monopoly.

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