Nova Scotia needs more than a climate change plan

Larry Hughes, PhD
Dalhousie University

20 December 2022

Earlier in the month, the Nova Scotia government released its climate plan, Our Climate, Our Future: Nova Scotia's Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth.

The plan contains a list of 68 actions the government intends to take so that by 2030, the province will have reduced its emissions by 53% below 2005 levels and by 2050, reached net zero.

As the following figure from the climate plan shows, reaching the province's 2030 emissions target requires a significant reduction in Nova Scotia Power's emissions.

Figure 1: Nova Scotia's pathway to 2030 (from Our Climate, Our Future: Nova Scotia's Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth)

Nova Scotia Power's emissions will need to be reduced from about 6.4 megatonnes in 2020 to about 0.6 megatonnes in 2030. According to the plan, this will be achieved by the addition of at least 500 megawatts of locally generated renewable electricity and 50 megawatts of community solar by 2026.

Consequently, by 2030, the province expects 80% of the electricity sold to come from renewable sources and 90% by 2035.

And new regulations will require the generation of electricity from coal to cease by 2030.

Since most of the renewables added to the system will probably come from variable sources such as wind and solar, there will still be a need for dispatchable sources of electricity.

Which brings us, as it always does, to the Atlantic Loop.

The Atlantic Loop is mentioned once in action 21 of the plan, "Work with our neighbouring provinces to transfer more electricity across Atlantic Canada and Québec through projects like the Atlantic Loop, Muskrat Falls, and stronger connections with New Brunswick."

Only the eastern part of the Atlantic Loop exists today, from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to Nova Scotia, crossing the island of Newfoundland.

Figure 2: The Atlantic Loop (from Clean Power Roadmap for Atlantic Canada)

By now (actually, by 2020), a reliable supply of electricity from Muskrat Falls was to have increased the volume of renewable electricity used by Nova Scotians from 30% to 40%. This would have set the stage for increasing the volume of renewables envisaged in the climate plan.

However, since 2020, Nova Scotia Power has never come close to meeting the 40% target, although things did improve slightly this year.

In the third quarter, Nova Scotia Power produced 571 gigawatt-hours of electricity from renewables, the most it has ever produced in that quarter.

In fact, during the first nine months of 2022, 34.9% of Nova Scotia Power's sales were of electricity from renewable sources. Again, a record for the company.

However, neither of these numbers bring the company anywhere near the volume of electricity it needs to sell if it is to achieve the targets specified in the province's Renewable Electricity Regulations which require the company to produce sufficient electricity from renewable sources to meet 40% of its sales between 2020 and 2022.

To meet that target, Nova Scotia Power will need to sell about 3,500 GWh from renewable sources in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Not only is this more renewable electricity than the company has ever produced in a year, it is also about 900 GWh more than it normally sells in the fourth quarter.

By now, Nova Scotia Power had expected a reliable supply of renewable electricity from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric site in Labrador.

It never happened and probably will not happen in the near term at least, given the seemingly never-ending problems associated with the Labrador-Island Link, the transmission cable connecting Muskrat Falls to the island of Newfoundland.

Even Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, which is responsible for running Muskrat Falls, appears to be having doubts about the Labrador-Island Link and Muskrat Falls.

In October, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro released its 2022 Reliability Update, which stated that because of concerns over a potential extended winter outage of the Labrador-Island Link, the Holyrood thermal power station will be maintained beyond its planned 2024 shut down and an expansion of the Bay d'Espoir hydro site is being contemplated.

In late November, a test of the Labrador-Island Link resulted in power outages in parts of the island of Newfoundland.

In early December, ice brought down one of the Labrador-Island Link power lines on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula.

Problems such as these call into question the wisdom of relying on Muskrat Falls and the Labrador-Island Link to supply Nova Scotia with at least ten percent of its electricity. This will be particularly true during the winter months when Nova Scotia's demand for electricity is greatest.

The ongoing Muskrat Falls debacle shows that Nova Scotia needs more than a climate change plan, it also needs an energy transition plan designed to ensure the energy security of all Nova Scotians.