Not a great leap forward

Until now, with its Green Energy Act (GEA) of 2009, Ontario was the only jurisdiction in Canada with a genuine renewable energy program. This week, Nova Scotia is taking its place as the second such province. You’d think that would be good news for green energy. You’d think that means that the country is finally getting some momentum in the fight against climate change and overdependence on unreliable energy imports. You’d think that an NDP government would take the boldest steps of any major Canadian political party, other than perhaps the Greens. Think again.

Compared to the GEA, Nova Scotia’s Renewable Electricity Plan (REP) is like alcohol-free beer. It has taken the best renewable energy technology – solar – and effectively excluded it. And, it has taken the most promising program participants – businesses and individuals – and excluded them too.

Wind, biomass, hydro and tidal energy are the only technologies that may be used to generate power under the ComFIT (Community Feed-In Tariff) component of the plan. The larger-scale FIT program applies only to tidal energy. Although the province is not, in fact, perpetually shrouded in darkness, solar is not eligible. Oh, you can install a solar array and connect it to the grid, but you’ll only get paid the going retail rate for the electricity you supply. Power is cheap enough in Nova Scotia that only a financial illiterate or an off-the-deep-end tree hugger would bother. The program website shows an image of a rooftop solar array, but don’t expect to actually see any appearing in the province any time soon thanks to the REP.

To keep power generation profits from departing the province, applicants must be a “community”. Private individuals and businesses, the most promising sources of investment dollars (and the overwhelming majority of participants in the Ontario FIT and MicroFIT programs), have been turned away. Instead, the hope is that such famously flush-with-cash entities as First Nations band councils, universities, municipalities, and nonprofits will step up to construct wind turbines and biomass-fueled CHP (Combined Heat and Power) systems. I want to believe it will work. But I want to believe in flying saucers, too.

As an added bonus, the program looks to be suffering from crass political manipulations. At the last minute, some definitions were changed in the legislation that effectively ruled out one wind turbine manufacturer in favour of another. The change had nothing to do with the public interest. When the government sets up one company to be the monopoly supplier, it reeks of political patronage.

In other words, Nova Scotia has brought its track star to the starting line with much fanfare, and tied a cinder block to each ankle.

I grew up on Cape Breton Island, and I still maintain a certain irritation with Upper Canada perpetually being in the driver’s seat. I’d love to see the Maritimes stand up and take the lead while the rest of the country sits up and takes notice. I was hoping to see a paragon of policy innovation and courage, but Nova Scotia’s REP ain’t it. The Ontario GEA remains the Canadian gold standard for green energy legislation.

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