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Dalhousie study gets province powered up 

David Wheeler, dean of the faculty of management at Dalhousie, co-authors study that spells out how Nova Scotia can meet its renewable power goals.

Nova Scotia Power will have to give up control over who gets access to the province's energy grid, says a government-sponsored report released Tuesday.

The province has set a target of 25 percent of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2015. That goal is lauded by environmentalists, but there's concern that it will either not be met and left to a future government to deal with, or the goal will be met by increasing the burning of biomass. Biomass is not necessarily bad, but it is unsustainable in the long-term if fuel comes from clear-cutting forests. The Dexter government asked Dalhousie University to study these issues and find the best way to meet the target.

The Dal report says the government should set up an independent agency to hold the keys to the grid and be able to buy renewable power---especially wind, but also hydro, biomass and, potentially, tidal---from independent producers. "Those could be community organizations, Aboriginal community organizations, municipalities, co-operatives," explains report co-author David Wheeler, dean of the faculty of management.

As Coast writer Chris Benjamin has shown (see "Breaking Wind," September 10), community- and cooperatively owned wind farms are the backbone of the successful Danish wind industry, because people come to see wind farms not as an industrial nuisance but rather as having direct, personal and positive economic benefit.

But to make it worthwhile for communities to invest in renewable energy, the price NSP pays for this electricity would be fixed, as opposed to the present system, which has NSP buying from the lowest bidder. The new independent agency would set the price paid for renewable power.

"It's unfair to expect Nova Scotia Power to make all the calls," says Wheeler. "This is the way to build confidence in the market for renewable energy," he adds, pointing to Ontario's success with a similar model.

The proposal is not a return to a socialized power grid, says Wheeler. The market will have some level of control. "Not everyone agreed with the privatization of Nova Scotia Power, but in hindsight that was a good thing because you had a strong private utility that is able to play in what is becoming an increasingly de-regulated global energy marketplace."

A more open system would allow NSP to "play to its strengths," getting energy into people's homes, while smaller, local and cooperatively owned companies generate more renewable energy going into the grid.

The paper also calls for the overhaul of the Utility and Review Board. Presently, the UARB's commitment to keeping energy costs down keeps it from making meaningful renewable energy decisions. The paper asks for legislation that would make renewable energy part of the UARB's mandate.

Wheeler and his team tried to reach a proposal that will satisfy both power providers and environmental groups. They consulted with more than 120 groups, including NSP, business organizations, poverty advocates and the Ecology Action Centre.

"We have to make sure that in engineering this transformation we carry everyone with us," says Wheeler. "That means all the stakeholders in energy and the environment and social justice and so on...but it also means the politicians."

Wheeler and his team will make their final recommendation this Friday, December 18. Wheeler expects the government to respond with their plans shortly after, possibly as soon as the spring session of the legislature. "Nova Scotia can really be one of the leading jurisdictions globally on energy production, distribution and use," he says. "Whether you're the utility or a nascent green energy provider, there is a system here that allows people to make a fair return on their investment, but most importantly deliver the kind of energy we need."

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