[HALIFAX, NS] - Premier Darrell Dexter says he's concerned new greenhouse gas regulations being drafted in Ottawa will drive up energy costs in Nova Scotia if the federal Environment Department moves too quickly on a plan to require the closure of older coal-fired generating plants.
Dexter raised the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper when the two met Monday in Ottawa, the premier said Tuesday after an announcement in Halifax.
He said the province wants to avoid having to quickly turn off the plants, a move that would increase electricity bills.
“My main concern is that we could drive up costs of electricity in the province by stranding costs in coal-fired generating stations that we would be unable to recover,” Dexter said.
The province's pulp and paper mills are particularly sensitive to rising energy costs, he said, given the shaky state of world paper markets.
“We want to make sure that we are fully engaged on the front end so that we don't get surprises that we don't want. ... It's much more difficult to undo things once they've been done, than to get engaged in the file early on.”
Dexter said he would prefer shutting down individual generators within each plant, rather than taking plants off line all at once. By closing the plants in stages, the province would be able to maintain its ability to generate reserve power, he said.
He said the province has already legislated greenhouse gas emission caps and is in the process of reducing its reliance on fossil fuels by promising to increase its renewable energy capacity to 40 per cent by 2020.
Brennan Vogel, energy and climate change co-ordinator with the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, said Nova Scotia has done a good job setting targets for renewable energy, greenhouse gas reductions and energy efficiency, but it has yet to say how and when it will close its four coal-fired power plants.
Meanwhile, the Ontario government has already said it will close its four coal-fired generators by the end of 2014.
Nova Scotia Power Inc., the province's privately owned electric utility, appears to be on track to reach its targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, but the company is counting on the green energy from the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric development in Labrador to account for about half of its reductions, Vogel said.
“They're putting a lot of their eggs in the Lower Churchill basket,” Vogel said in an interview. “That's a risky proposition.”
Instead, he said the province should be taking a closer look at displacing the use of coal by importing hydroelectric power from Quebec and doing more to support its renewable energy industry by making it easier for producers of solar and wind energy to feed their electricity into the province's grid.
Vogel said Ottawa's proposed regulations for coal-fired plants represent a step in the right direction, but he accused the Harper government of failing to deal with Canada's biggest greenhouse gas emitter: Alberta's tarsands industry.
“Canada is way off track when it comes to reducing greenhouse gasses at the national level,” he said.
“It's an approach from Ottawa that is trying to take action on an important area of greenhouse gasses (coal-fired plants), but it's avoiding the major area of greenhouse gas growth in Canada, which is the tarsands.”
Dexter said his suggestions were welcomed by Harper.
“I was satisfied that we were very well received,” he said. “I thought the prime minister appeared to be in quite a good mood. I'm sure that a majority mandate and four years of runway will do that for you.”