NSP’s wind woes and other children’s tales

For the past few years, Emera (the parent company of Nova Scotia Power) has published a “progress report” to coincide with its annual shareholders’ meeting. These reports are intended to reassure shareholders and silence critics by presenting corporate goals, their status, and results. For example, in this year’s report, the goal of continued progress on the addition of new renewable energy for NSP had been met because of contracts signed with independent power producers for 246 megawatts of wind power. The result was a tick-mark, meaning that they had met this goal.

Without fail, Emera (NSP) makes a green energy announcement like this every year, presenting an image of a company that is making strides towards improving its environmental record. They have yet to learn the basic truth that a contract means nothing unless there is something on the ground producing electricity.

But the focus on the 246 megawatts of wind didn’t stop with this year’s progress report. Chris Huskilson, president and CEO of Emera, wrote in the Annual Financial Report that NSP had, “signed contracts with independent power producers for 246 MW of wind energy—almost twice as much as is required to meet the 2010 provincial renewable generation standard.”

What Mr. Huskilson failed to mention was that had all these contracts come to fruition, NSP would have faced serious grid instability. In fact, the Department of Energy’s Wind Integration Report released last summer recommended that no more than 200 MW of intermittent renewables (i.e., wind) be put onto the NSP’s existing grid.

At the other extreme, neither the 2008 financial report nor the 2008 progress report gave any indication about the fines that would be levied on NSP if it failed to meet its 2010 renewable generation requirements.

In other words, NSP (more to the point, Nova Scotians) would be in trouble if too many or too few independent power producers were to connect to the grid. NSP needed just the right amount to walk the fine line between system instability and corporate fines.

This is the Goldilocks school of running a utility—too much intermittent electricity is bad, too little is bad, meeting the government target is, mmmmm, just right.

Nova Scotians cannot afford to have its primary electricity supplier run as if it were a children’s fairy tale. The next time the management of NSP makes claims that cannot be met, they should keep in mind what happened to Goldilocks—she was chased out of the bears’ house.

Larry Hughes
Submitted to AllNovaScotia.com 11 May 2009