Why Nova Scotia needs a new energy strategy

In general, a society’s energy consumption can be categorized into three basic energy services: transportation, heating and cooling, and electricity. The energy used to meet these services can come from any number of sources; the principal ones being oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydro (for electricity), and biomass.

Although seldom discussed, energy security (that is, ensuring access to energy sources that are both available and affordable) is an important part of any society’s economic and social wellbeing. However, increasing world demand for energy and rising world energy prices means that maintaining or even improving energy security is becoming a challenge in many jurisdictions.

There are a handful of jurisdictions that recognize the importance of energy security to the three basic energy services. Fewer still are developing policies that will ensure their future energy security.

Sadly, Nova Scotia falls into neither of these categories.

Refined petroleum products, primarily in the form of gasoline and fuel oil, meet about 80 percent of the energy demand of Nova Scotia’s three basic energy services; the remaining 20 percent is met by electricity. Despite the importance of transportation and heating (for both space heating and process heat for industry), the provincial government is focusing on electricity.

The government’s electricity policy (originally intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but that now makes reference to energy security) plans to increase Nova Scotia’s total electrical generation from renewable sources from about 10 percent today to 25 percent by 2015 and 40 percent by 2020. According to the government’s recently released “Renewable Electricity Plan”, by 2020 about two-thirds of the (new) electricity will come from wind and the remainder from biomass combustion.

By deciding to develop policies that focus solely on electricity, rather than first having developed a long-term provincial energy security policy that considers all energy sources and all energy services, the government has made a serious mistake; for example:

The government claims that their electricity plan will keep wealth in the province as the producers of electricity will be local. Admittedly some wealth will remain here; however, a great deal will leave the province, both to pay for the wind turbines and to pay for electricity imports.

The government may argue that Nova Scotia is not set up to use excess electricity from wind for transportation or heating. This is correct; however, now is the time to begin the process of improving Nova Scotia’s energy security rather than increasing its grid capacity for electricity exports.

Quite simply, the government’s 2015 and 2020 electricity policies and plans make little sense if they fail to contribute to the energy security of all of the province’s energy services. Nova Scotia needs a new energy strategy, one that maximizes the consumption of energy produced within the province. For too many years, the energy policy of the government of the day has been to export the province’s limited energy resources: oil, natural gas, wood chips, and now electricity. This must stop.

When he announced his government’s 40 percent renewable electricity target, Premier Dexter claimed that it would put Nova Scotia in a position of “global leadership”. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Premier Dexter really wants to make Nova Scotia a global leader in energy issues, he should develop comprehensive policies that put the province on the road to improving its energy security.

Producing and exporting electricity from renewable sources is easy—using them to improve our energy security is another thing altogether.

Published: Chronicle-Herald, 6 May 2010