November 19, 2007

Greenhouse gas action plan will be centrepiece of revised Nova Scotia energy policy

A greenhouse gas (GHG) action plan will be a critical component of Nova Scotia's updated energy policy. The province's 2001 policy is being revised in the light of its new Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, passed earlier this year. The Act requires a firm cap on GHG emissions in the province and "has set a deadline of 2020 for cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10% below 1990," noted acting Energy Minister Jamie Muir.

As a starting point for public discussion, the government has released two documents, Consultation Paper: Nova Scotia's Renewed Energy Strategy and A Background Paper to Guide Nova Scotia's Climate Change Action Plan. A series of 12 public meetings has been scheduled between November 19 and December 6 to gather feedback on the two consultation documents.

Dalhousie University oceanography professor Bob Fournier, chair of the November 21 meeting in Bridgewater, said meeting those goals presents challenges for policy planners.

"Our electricity, which is mostly coal-fired, generates about 42% of our greenhouse gases," he said. "How do we reduce our use of coal without driving up electricity prices? How do we balance our need for wind power with our ability to provide adequate back-up power? What new technologies or initiatives should we be promoting to meet our green energy needs?

"These are challenging questions and we want public input before we generate a policy that is to guide the province for years," Fournier added.

The goal of the renewed energy strategy is to build sustainable prosperity while addressing climate change. The discussion paper points out, however, that this must be accomplished in the face of significant overall policy challenges, such as the unpredictable nature of technological change, unstable global conditions for energy prices, fluctuations in supply and demand, and the long lead time required for bringing energy projects online.

Based on a continuing dialogue with the energy community, the consultation paper proposes a number of issues to be taken into account by the renewed energy strategy. These include: renewable resources, air quality, energy conservation and efficiency, electricity (ensuring energy security through diversity), natural gas, energy opportunities, and government action and intervention. For each of these issues, the paper provides background information, outlines planning considerations and proposes policy objectives and options. At the same time, the need to reduce GHG emissions and improve air quality is emphasized throughout the paper.

As a supplement to the draft energy strategy, the climate change action plan deals with both GHG reduction and the need to "plan for change," i.e. adopt adaptation strategies.

Nova Scotia's GHG footprint is relatively large due to the fact that 89% of its energy needs are met by fossil fuels. This high level of fossil fuel use derives, in turn, from the fact that the province has abundant coal resources (as well as recent access to natural gas), but little in the way of cleaner hydropower resources. While renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power are promising, their intermittent nature will require a back-up source of energy.

Dealing with climate change, says the paper, will require reducing GHG emissions without increasing emissions of other air pollutants or raising electricity prices beyond the reach of business and residential users. Within this context, the action plan will need to find ways and means of: using less energy; using renewable energy; using cleaner energy; using nature to clean the air (e.g. absorption of GHGs by plants and forests); leading by example (i.e. government operations); and planning for change (i.e. developing adaptation measures).

Finally, the discussion paper points out that individual actions will have an important role to play in helping the province reach its goal: each person will need to reduce his/her annual emissions by an average of 20%, from 24 tonnes to 19 tonnes per person per year.

The Consultation Paper: Nova Scotia's Renewed Energy Strategy and A Background Paper to Guide Nova Scotia's Climate Change Action Plan may be viewed on-line at www.gov.ns.ca/energy/energystrategy. Written comments on energy strategy and GHG reductions may be submitted until December 12, 2007. Information gathered from the public consultation sessions will be used to create the Energy Strategy and the Climate Action Plan, scheduled for release in the spring.

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