Nova Scotia’s Energy Future – Sustainable, Self Reliant and Secure

In the last two weeks Nova Scotia secured an energy future that many jurisdictions around the world would envy.  As a Province, we demonstrated the maturity of our institutional decision-making when the  Utility and Review Board approved favourable tariffs for tidal energy and (finally) signed off on the Maritime Link.  These two decisions build on bold commitments on energy efficiency and renewable energy targets in recent years that will benefit Nova Scotia for generations.

But what is almost unique in Canadian policy terms is the fact that these momentous decisions spanned two changes of government: from Progressive Conservative to NDP in 2009 and from NDP to Liberal in 2013.  Much of the credit for this must go to the Department of Energy which has taken the long term view even when the political heat was fierce – most notably in the run-up to the recent provincial election.  Hopefully we can now return to a period of relative political calm and consensus which we know is so important for investor confidence.

Because of our steadfastness and clarity of vision, Nova Scotia has landed in pole position among Canadian provinces for the decarbonisation of our economy – both through our national leadership in energy efficiency and our commitment to trebling of renewable electricity energy generation and supply within 10 years – from approximately 13% in 2009 to 40% in 2020.

In guiding our Province through these decisions, the UARB has very significantly reduced two high risk dependencies for future generations of Nova Scotians: dependency on carbon-intensive fossil fuels and reliance on New Brunswick and Quebec for grid connectivity.  The Board has also laid the ground for the participation of our Province in one of the most exciting energy industries of the future.  By 2050, the marine renewable energy sector is expected to grow to a $500bn global industry employing 300,000 people.  Together with Scotland, Nova Scotia is now the best placed jurisdiction in the world to nurture this industry.

Of course, the most recent UARB decisions only make sense when taken together, for if we are to attract globally leading European energy players like Siemens and Alstom to our Province to commercialise tidal energy we also need the grid connections to export green power from tidal and indeed wind energy generation to US markets. Happily, all parts of the puzzle are now in place and in the future we will be able to manage major energy security risks and our significant energy export opportunities from a position of strength rather than weakness.

Critics of long term investments like the Maritime Link may continue to complain from the sidelines, basing their arguments on unrealistic assumptions on future fossil fuel pricing and their denial of the implications of climate change.  But the truth is we are now set to become a resilient and energy-secure jurisdiction, and for that we should thank all those politicians, public servants, and yes, Emera too, for staying the course.

In late 2009 Dr Michelle Adams of Dalhousie University and I submitted our recommendations to the Province on the future for renewable electricity, building on a previous study which established Efficiency Nova Scotia.  Based on the evidence and the deliberations of a large number of stakeholders, we confirmed that it was entirely possible to reach or exceed 40 per cent of electricity generation from renewables by 2020.  And we said “It is feasible that 2015-2020 will also see the results of establishing serious joint ventures with our colleagues in Newfoundland and other Atlantic Canadian Provinces, allowing a vibrant regional renewable energy hub to emerge, with Nova Scotia trading its renewable energy exports into North Eastern US and Canadian grid systems.”

That prize is now within our grasp.  So let us all now look forward to playing our full part in a sustainable energy future for Atlantic Canada and our Province.

David Wheeler is President and Vice-Chancellor of Cape Breton University.

This article appeared in the Chronicle Herald 4th December 2013. Dr Wheeler is writing here in a personal capacity.