Time for a new strategy for Nova Scotia's energy future

It has been said that military leaders prepare for the next war using the strategies of the last one. This backward-looking approach to confronting future problems is not limited to the military; consider the minister of energy and his reactions to the recent start of an 18 kilometre lateral from the main Maritimes and Northeast pipeline to Amherst (Pipeline to NS border, 20 July, Chronicle-Herald).

First, the minister talked of Sable natural gas being sent to Amherst, and for the next year or so, this will be the case. However, the minister neglected to mention that Sable's output has been in decline since December 2001, when monthly production volume peaked at 517 million cubic metres. The most recent production figures (June 2005) show a volume of 344 million cubic metres, a decline of one-third from the peak. The failure of Nova Scotia.s offshore to meet the grossly over inflated predictions is one of the principal reasons why Anadarko and Irving are currently establishing LNG terminals in Bear Head and Saint John, respectively.

Second, the minister speaks of accelerating the rollout of natural gas to Nova Scotians. It had better do so if Heritage Gas is to meet its target of making natural gas available to 20,000 Nova Scotia homeowners and 6,500 businesses by 2010. At the end of 2004, its first year of service, Heritage Gas had 125 customers (75 residential and 25 business), falling short of the 400 to 500 customers projected for the first year. With less than six years left to meet their target, Heritage Gas will need to install connections to about 3,000 residential and 1,000 business customers per year.

Third, the minister also states that the country and province will be required to use greener energy sources like natural gas because of the Kyoto Accord and the province's own "green energy plan". It is interesting that the minister uses Kyoto as one of the reasons for adopting natural gas, since Nova Scotia has been a reluctant partner in the entire Kyoto process. However, what is even more interesting is the minister's reference to the province's "green energy plan", given that the province does not have any such plan.

This government's infatuation with natural gas can be traced back to the summer of 2001, when the provincial Energy Strategy was first conceived. In those heady days, Sempra Atlantic promised to spend $1.1 billion to distribute natural gas (from Nova Scotia's boundless offshore natural gas resources) to all 18 counties and 75 percent of the households.

Since then, Sempra Atlantic has abandoned the province, several other natural gas franchises have come and gone, the offshore has not lived up to expectations, anthropogenic use of fossil fuels has been shown to be one of the principal causes of climate change, energy prices are edging skywards, and the pipeline to New England, intended to carry natural gas from Nova Scotia, is about to carry natural gas from Norway or North Africa.

By championing natural gas, the minister of energy is encouraging a fuel shift, away from oil (and possibly electricity) to natural gas. Like oil, the natural gas will be combusted in a furnace to heat living spaces and possibly to heat water. Although using natural gas will produce less carbon dioxide emissions than oil (something the minister is pleased about), there are even better ways to reduce emissions.

For example, by cogenerating the natural gas (for example, in a gas turbine) to generate electricity and heat, the electricity can be sold to the grid and, using district heating, the heat can be transported as hot water in insulated, underground pipes for use as space and water heating in the residential and commercial sector. Cogeneration and district heating can result in significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and have the added benefit that just about any fuel source can be used (from biomass to coal to natural gas).

The best way to reduce emissions and reduce reliance on foreign energy sources is, quite simply, to require that all new house construction is oriented on an east-west axis and to take advantage of the sun for space and water heating.

If the minister of energy is truly concerned about Nova Scotia's energy future, he will spend less time advocating the combustion of fossil fuels for space heating and start promoting technologies that minimize their impact on the climate and help the province achieve energy security (that is, ensuring that Nova Scotians have access to reliable and uninterrupted supplies of energy at reasonable prices). The minister could start this process with his Energy Act, something that he has promised for several years but has yet to introduce to the Legislature.

Published: Chronicle-Herald, 27 July 2005