Tagged: Nova Scotia Power
I see by the CBC that Nova Scotia Power wind turbines have laid waste to a Digby Neck emu farm, decimating a family’s livelihood in the process.
Twenty of Debi and Davey VanTassel’s 27 emus succumbed to the lethal noise produced by NS Power’s murderous machines in the three years since they began slicing the salt air over Digby.
Or maybe it was 30 of their 38 birds—the CBC story gives both sets of figures. In any case, the emus were as hapless as they were flightless, no match for the death-dealing, green-power monsters.
How do we know this?
Because Debi Van Tassel, voice choked with emotion, told the CBC so.
Why, when the birds that provided their livelihood began dropping like cluster flies on a warm window sill, the Van Tassels didn’t even call a veterinarian to examine the corpses. Why bother? They already knew the cause of death.
So certain were Debi and Davey of the emu-killing power of renewable energy, they had protested construction of the wind farm before it even started up.
A vet might not have been much help anyway, given the inconvenient lack of a single peer-reviewed study showing turbine-induced health effects on animals.
Public health researchers in Australia tabulated every known public complaint of human health problems related to wind farms, and found no correlation with the size of a wind farm or complainants’ proximity to them. Well over half of the country’s 41 wind farms generated no complaints; those that did were mostly in areas where protesters promoted health fears before construction began.
The Van Tassel’s putative plight reads like a classic fable. On the one hand, a grieving farm couple, raising charismatic birds from a distant hemisphere, seeking only to wrest a humble livelihood from the windswept Fundy shore. On the other, a corporation so reviled the press exempts it from ordinary standards of fairness and balance, replacing conventional news coverage with one-sided, crowd-pleasing screeds.
“With a vital portion of their income gone,” came the CBC’s maudlin conclusion, “the Van Tassels said they don’t know what’s next for them.”
Absence of evidence and rampant implausibility could not be allowed to interfere with such a stirring yarn. Score one for bunkum over news.
[Disclosure: I count many good friends among NS Power management and staff, and from time to time, I have done work for the company, mainly writing and editing.]
Here’s the view this morning from the second storey of the Nova Scotia Power building on Lower Water Street.
Photo: David Rodenhiser. Click image for full sized version.
Of course, you can’t see the NS Power building from this photograph, but I will take this opportunity to note that it is the most under-appreciated architectural marvel in Nova Scotia—a magnificent structure with many interesting features that combine to make it an exceptionally beautiful and functional workplace. The ground floor of the defunct coal-fired generating station is accessible to the public from the boardwalk side. If you are in the neighbourhood during business hours, you really should take a peek inside. The architects, WZMH of Toronto, have a good slide show of the interior and exterior.
I’m a friend and admirer of Jamie Baillie from long before he ran for office, but his recent foray into energy policy makes me nervous. Granted, the climate of public (and media) hostility to Nova Scotia Power makes the utility an almost irresistible target for politicians aiming at the premier’s office, but Baillie’s demand for easing up on renewable energy targets sounds to me like a short-term anaesthetic for long-term pain.
The Pictou Bee, an NDP-flavored blog, sees it the same way, calling it Baillie’s “unforced error.”
[O]ddly, Jamie Baillie and his Conservatives have decided that attacking renewable energy is good politics (if not good policy). They underestimate Nova Scotians interest in getting off coal, and they underestimate their core demographic’s interest in good green jobs.
The Bee accuses Baillie of taking the phrase “bite the bullet” out of context from a government energy plan, then adds:
Now, Nova Scotians don’t have a lot of love for Nova Scotia Power. It was run into the ground by the Liberals and then privatized by the Conservatives. Both were mistakes. But the rate increases the UARB is awarding to NSPI actually have to do with the rising price of coal – the very thing the NDP is looking to move Nova Scotia off.
This game the Conservatives are playing wins them no votes. Nova Scotians are not rubes. They will choose a party that moves Nova Scotia forward, not one that runs into the past.
Not sure about the last point. Baillie’s attack on renewable energy targets is not admirable, but it could find traction with irrationally NSP-hostile voters.
[Disclosure: I have been friends with Jamie Baillie for years, and I have done contract work, mostly writing, for NS Power and the NS Dept. of Energy.]
H/T: May Zhang
A recent story by Andrew MacDonald in the online journal AllNovaScotia.com included the following sentence:
NSP has begun slowly moving its 500 workers out of the Barrington Tower office to a new $54-million HQ on the Halifax waterfront, dubbed the Bennett Bunker for NSP ceo [sic] Rob Bennett [emphasis in the original].
The phrase, “dubbed the Bennett Bunker,” is noteworthy for having been cast in passive voice, a grammatical form journalists often decry as a way for politicians and similar miscreants to evade responsibility for their actions. Who exactly “dubbed” NS Power’s office building “the Bennett Bunker?” Why, AllNovaScotia, that’s who.
It invented the phrase on July 3, 2008, the day conversion of the building (which is actually rebuilt, not new) was announced, and shortly after Bennett assumed the company’s top job. As best I can tell from a Google search, no one other media outlet has ever used it. This failure to gain traction elsewhere hasn’t discouraged AllNovaScotia’s writers, however. The journal has used “Bennett Bunker” in 35 subsequent stories. Wouldn’t the honest thing be to write, “which we at AllNovaScotia.com call the Bennett Bunker?”
The cutesy alliteration hasn’t caught on because it conveys no fresh insight about the building or Bennett’s term as head of NS Power. Writers usually apply “Bunker” metaphorically to the fortified redoubt of an uncommunicative public figure who hides out to avoid critics or public accountability. The record shows that, as chief executives go, Bennett is reasonably forthcoming. He testifies before the Utility and Review Board, makes public appearances, takes questions, speaks to editorial boards, gives interviews, and participates in public engagement sessions.
AllNovaScotia’s use of “Bennett Bunker” is of a piece with the starkly hostile coverage NS Power receives from some of its writers, and from Nova Scotia media in general, who report electricity cost issues as if NS Power were solely responsible for rising world energy prices, ever tighter environmental regulations, and the Buchanan government’s understandable, but now regretted, decision to overcommit to coal generation in the 1980s.
The fact that unhappiness over increasing electricity costs has focused public hostility on NS Power does not relieve journalists of responsibility for reporting the reasons for those cost increases competently, honestly, and evenhandedly. (And, yes, the same could be said of opposition politicians.)
[Disclosure: I have done occasional contract work for NS Power, mostly writing.]
A few weeks ago, I posted a critique of an opinion piece in the August 25 edition of AllNovaScotia.com [subscription required] by Prof. Larry Hughes of the Dalhouse University’s Computer Engineering Department. Hughes is currently toiling as a visiting professor of Global Energy Systems at Uppsala University in Sweden. Shockingly, Contrarian is not yet daily reading in that particular corner of Scandinavia, so he only recently learned of my comments. Hughes writes:
Contrary to what you have written, [my article in AllNovaScotia.com] has nothing to with NSP’s existing 2010 or 2013 requirements. The article is about NSP’s new 25% renewables energy target for 2015 — this is made quite clear in the first two paragraphs.
The jumble of targets and deadlines set forth various provincial government plans, strategies, regulations for coping with climate change is confusing. Hughes is correct that I overlooked his emphasis on the NDP’s newly announced, and very tough, 2015 target of generating 25 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, but I’ll leave it to readers to judge whether this obviates my disagreement with several with his assertions.
No one thinks meeting the 2015 targets will be easy. Even if electricity demand remains flat between now and 2015, Hughes says NSP’s use of renewable energy “must grow from 1,068 GWh (gigawatt-hours) in 2008 to 2,919 GWh in 2015, an increase of 1,851 GWh.”
The Nova Scotia Power website gives slightly different figures. It puts renewable generation at 12 percent, or 1,560 GWh, of its total production of 13,000 GWh. That would leave a gap of 1690 GWh, assuming no growth. If NSP’s energy conservation and energy efficiency programs bear fruit, we could conceivably have consume less power by 2015.
No matter what route we take, it’s going to be a tough slog, which is another reason why the province should not be squandering $30 per year on subsidies to home energy consumption.
Two weeks ago, AllNovaScotia.com, the excellent online journal run by daughter-father team Caroline Wood and David Bentley, ran the latest in a series of occasional pieces by Larry Hughes, a computer engineering coordinator at Dalhousie University.
Hughes is something of an energy policy gadfly. He expects energy will soon be in short supply globally, so he places a lot of emphasis on energy security, by which he appears to mean energy produced within Nova Scotia.
Nevertheless, Hughes opposes Nova Scotia Power’s plan to mix wood waste with coal to burn in its thermal generating plants. His piece, in the August 25 edition of AllNS [subscription required], makes a concise, persuasive case that wood waste would be better deployed in home heating.
Unfortunately, Hughes’s argument is marred by a string of misstatements about wind generation in the opening paragraphs. After noting that NSP is scrambling to meet a legislated requirement for increased use of renewable energy by 2010, he adds, “Until recently, ministers and NSP insisted wind would easily fill the gap.”
In fact, the contracts NSP signed with independent wind producers two years ago would have easily filled the gap, but when the world economy went into a tail spin 13 months ago, several of the producers lost their financing. It’s been clear since then that NSP would be hard pressed to meet the timetable.
But Hughes puts the financial meltdown far down the list of factors behind wind’s inability to fill the gap.
At the top of the list he puts the grid’s limited capacity for intermittent power. This is simply incorrect. Two years ago, NSP and the Nova Scotia Department of Energy commissioned a Wind Integration Study to evaluate the grid’s capacity to absorb intermittent power sources. It determined that the grid has enough capacity to handle the 2010 targets and, with careful management, the even greater requirements for 2013.
Beyond that, Hughes is right: If we want to keep ramping up our use of intermittent energy sources like wind, solar, and tidal beyond the legislated 2013 targets — and we do — Nova Scotia will soon have to invest very large sums to beef up our electrical grid.
Hughes also cited “the poor economics associated with wind in Nova Scotia.” In fact, the economics of wind power are better than average in Nova Scotia, because wind speeds are higher than average here. The price gap between wind and conventional energy sources has narrowed, and given the likelihood of future fuel price increases, it has probably already closed on a net present value basis.
Hughes also lists “multi-year delays” in wind turbine deliveries as a factor. That will come as news to Gamesa Corporación Tecnológica, a large Spanish wind turbine manufacturer. Gamesa announced in May that it would not meet sales targets because so many buyers had canceled purchases in the face of the economic meltdown.
In 2007. neither NSP, nor the Department of Energy, nor Larry Hughes, nor Parker Donham knew that the following summer, the world would experience the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression. Based on what we all knew then, the wind power contracts were a sensible approach to the need for more renewable energy. There is no need to invent reasons why it didn’t work out when the real reason is as clear now as it was unforeseeable then.
Finally, in describing the scramble to replace the likely-to-be unfulfilled wind power contracts, Hughes claimed that the province’s 2009 Energy Strategy expanded the term “renewable” to include “green” natural gas.
No it didn’t.
Natural gas is certainly the greenest of the ungreen fossil fuels, far less polluting and GHG-genrating than coal or even oil. But the revised energy strategy does not reclassify it as a renewable energy source, and while its use could help NSP reduce emissions, but it will not contribute to meeting the legislated renewable energy targets.
[Disclosure: I know this because I had a hand in the revised strategy, having been under contract with the Department of Energy as a writer on the project.]
Contrarian would be pleased to publish a response from Prof. Hughes.
Getting this done (or almost done), together with pressing client chores, have kept contrarian from blogging much these last two weeks, leaving a backlog of unacknowledged feedback on the NS Power customer consultation, and the recent outbreak of hurricane hysteria. After the jump, reader feedback on NS Power.
NSP President Rob Bennett has wrapped up the session with a brief thank you to the consumer participants and expert panelists. The session ended about an hour early to give participants time to get home before Hurricane Bill hits. Before leaving Truro, the consumer participants will fill out a questionnaire touching on various energy issues. They filled out an a second survey before coming to the session. Comparing the two will give NSP policy planners some insight into whether and how an informed discussion can move public opinion on energy issues.
One of the consumer breakout groups expressed alarm about the growing enthusiasm for biomass, and the increased pressure for clear-cutting it would create. The consensus among the panelists is that biomass should be used, but selectively, and without being blind to the potential problems. Recovering energy from farming and fishing byproducts that are normally discarded as waste was cited as a beneficial use of biomass power.
Consumer question: Why is there a law in Nova Scotia banning nuclear power and is Nova Scotia Power doing anything to change this?
Allan Crandlemire, Executive Director, Conserve Nova Scotia: “The ban has been in place for more than 20 years, and probably relates to Nova Scotia’s historic commitment to coal mining and coal-fired generation.”
Janet Janet Ashworth, alternative energy co-ordinator for the Ecology Actiuon Centre: “I would be very concerned about the health implications of nuclear power, starting with the health and environmental issues around uranium mining.”
Crandlemire: “The question of whether we have the option to consider it is very different from the question of whether we should choose nuclear. I am not advoicating that we go nuclear. I was trying to outline the histoical reasons why we have a ban on even considering it.”
if it is true that we have to move out to renewable sources
Consumer question: What is the potential for tidal power production?
Richardson said the pilot tidal projects now underway are an attempt to resolve two questions: which of two types of tidal turbines is bests uited for our needs, and what happend when you turn a single tidal generator into a tiday energy farm with many connected turbines. “If you asked me today, I think the potential would be in the 100-200 megawatt range, about 10 percent of our power production.”
Having completed the breakout discussion groups, the energy forum has now reconvened with an expert panel taking questions from the customer participants. The first question dealt with the capital cost required to meet the government’s 2015 renewable energy targets, and would this cost be passed on to customers. Alan Richardson, NSP vice president of commercial services, responded:
The cost will be substantial, certainly In the hundreds of millions. There is some uncertainty about the amount because there are choices to be made about which path we will take to move us away from fossil fuels and become much cleaner. This will affect customer power bills. Customer power bills are a function of our costs, because we are a regulated utility. We present to the UARB what we think our costs will be, and the UARB either agrees or disagrees, and sets our rates.
We think we can keep the capital costs within the range of inflation, but about half of our costs are fuel. There is some variability because of unknowns in the cost of fuels.
One group takes a dim view of burning agricultural and forest wastes to produce biomass power: “I’m afraid when the run out of garbage, they’re going to move on to the good stuff. If they build those machines, they will want to use them.”
The consumer view in a nutshell:
Wind is great. Solar is great. Tidal is great. We need these things. But how are we going to pay for them? [Nova Scotia Power] are not reinvesting profits in these things, they’re paying themselves.
NSP President Rob Bennett on the company’s biggest challenge: “How do we move to new sources of fuel without driving energy prices to high we wreck the economy. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’m convinced we can do it. The government has set a goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2015. I think it’s a very reasonable goal. In fact, I’d like to see us shoot for 30 percent so we have some safety margin.”
(Bennett was speaking conversationally during a break. Although he and other NSP officials are observing the consumer sessions, together with a variety of industry experts, they are not participating. Only customers and CRA facilitators take part. Some company officials and technical experts will be questioned by the forum participants in a panel discussion this afternoon.)
In the three sessions I’ve visited so far, the participants’ keen interest in conservation is surpassed only by their irritation at rising electricity costs. Politicians deal with this contradiction by pandering to both positions, but NSP doesn’t have that luxury. To curb its use of dirty coal, the company will have to bring on more expensive power sources.
This contradiction, it seems to me, is one of the biggest obstacles to sound environmental policy. Nova Scotians are concerned about the environment, and want steps taken to prevent climate change, but not so concerned that they are ready to endure increased costs or personal inconvenience.
A surprising number of participants in one session said they try to use their dishwashers and washing machines only at night, when power is cheaper. In fact, except for a small group of NSP customers who have electrical heat storage units and smart meters, electricity is not cheaper at night, although it costs far less for NSP to produce. Shifting peak power consumption to off-peak hours is one of NSP’s biggest conservation opportunities. The discussion suggests that time-of-day rates could drive that transition.
In each of the five morning breakout sessions, 20 customers are discussing energy conservation and value. Facilitators from Corporate Research Associates, a Halifax communications firm, began the session by asking what participants had done to conserve electricity.
Almost all participants claimed to have done something: from changing to compact fluorescent bulbs (“except in the bathroom, where my wife wouldn’t let me change them”), installing programmable thermostats, to buying a solar water heater for a swimming pool.
“I got rid of my teenager,” said a woman from Tatamagouche. “The change in electrical since he’s moved out is amazing!”
Saturday 10:00 a.m.
The customers taking part in Nova Scotia Power’s consumer forum in Truro were drawn from a 5,000-person online panel the company has assembled for periodic survey purposes. A demographically balanced subset of 1,000 members this group was asked about their interest in participating, and about 300 responded. The 99 people taking part in today’s session came from that group.
The idea was to capture a mix of ages, incomes, and region of the province that reflects NSP’s customer base. My impression, after eavesdropping on the first few minutes of the morening breakout sessions, is that the group is unrepresentative in at least one respect: The participants seem unusually interested in energy policy, and keen to learn more.
Live blog of Friday evening’s session here.
My old Daily News chum David Rodenhiser, now laboring in NSP communications, asked Bondar if she had any startling revelations in space.
Many of them. One is that Buck Rogers was a myth. We romanticize space. It’s a very difficult environment. It’s very hard. It’s hard on the body. But you can’t beat the view.
A surprisingly witty keynote speech by Roberta Bondar began with several slides of Hurricane Bill. These days Bondar makes her living as a professional speaker, but this isn’t shaping up to be a canned speech. Moneyquote:
The Challenger disaster happened because communications failed.
Anyone who has read William Langewiesche’s brilliant account of the Columbia disaster in the Atlantic, knows that communications brought it down, too. More specifically, an intellectually dishonest PowerPoint presentation lulled top NASA executives into the false belief that there was no problem with the shuttle. When junior engineers tried to sound the alarm, their superiors shut them down.
People didn’t want to hear that a piece of foam might have caused damage. How could a piece of foam the size of a football not do damage when it was flying by at 1000 miles an hour.
Bondar’s view of consumers’ and citizens’ roles in energy policy:
You have to listen; you have to hear; you have to learn; and if you don’t, you may be the reason communications will fail. If we avoid something, we will never learn how things can change.
Friday, 8:20 p.m.: Nova Scotia Power’s community forum is underway in Truro, and I’ll be live blogging the event in this space tonight and tomorrow, adding observations as they occur to me.
NSP President Rob Bennet kicked off the session with a mercifully short explanation of its purpose: to discuss “the challenges and choices we face, as we move away from coal, not only as a company but as a province.”
Not only as a company, but as a province. This is something critics of NSP need to realize. Nova Scotia’s environmental performance is inextricably connected to Nova Scotia Power’s environmental performance. Like it or not, we’re in this together.
In a post yesterday Monday, contrarian observed that a little noticed NDP campaign promise would advance Nova Scotia Power’s renewable energy targets by five years. Today Tuesday, the new government made that promise official government policy. NSP must generate one quarter of its energy from renewable sources (hydro, wind, tidal, wave, solar, biomass, biofuel, or landfill gas) by 2015.
It’s certainly a laudable step, but how big a step is it? The answer to that is incredibly complicated.
It’s complicated because various stages of the renewable energy requirements imposed on NSP define renewable energy three different ways:
- as overall generation from renewable sources;
- as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia by companies other than NSP;
- as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia, whether by NSP or third parties.
It’s still more complicated because the amount of generation from each of these sources can be measured in two ways: in absolute terms, as so many gigawatt-hours (GWH) of electricity; or in relative terms, as a percentage of NSP’s overall generation.
Bear in mind that the second yardstick is a moving target. If NSP’s efforts to curb electricity use (known as demand side management, or DSM) succeed in reducing our overall power consumption, a fixed amount of gigawatt-hours would constitute a larger percentage of that smaller consumption. If consumption of electricity falls, NSP could conceivably move from 12 percent renewables to 13 percent renewables without actually adding any new renewable energy to the grid. If one of our large industrial power users were to shut down—the NewPage mill at Point Tupper, for example—the percentage of NSP’s energy from renewable sources would shoot upward, even without NSP producing any new renewable energy.
So let’s walk through the various targets NSP has to meet.
Under the Electricity Act, a set of regulations known as the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requires NSP to purchase at least five percent of its 2010 energy supply from renewable sources owned by third parties and built after 2001.
Newspapers and broadcasters sometimes misreport this target as stating that five percent of NSP’s generation must come from renewable sources. A Canadian Press story carried by the Herald made that mistake today. NSP already produces 11 to 12 percent of its overall generation from renewable sources, mainly hydro. The RES standard calls for five percent of new renewables owned by third parties. That would bring NSP’s overall use of renewables to something over 16 percent.
NSP forecasts that it will sell 12,200 GWH of energy in 2010. Five percent of that figure is 610 GWH. So to meet the 2010 target, NSP must generate 610 GWH from new, third-party, renewable sources.
Of the renewable energy NSP already uses, approximately 180 GWH qualifies under the 2010 RES rules. That leaves a shortfall of 430 GWH. In 2007, NSP put out requests for proposals that led to contracts with independent producers for 711 GWH of wind power—more than enough to meet and exceed the 2010 targets.
Unfortunately, the worldwide financial meltdown that hit late last summer has stalled or killed several of those projects. Environmental approvals have also been slower than hoped for, especially in parts of the province with strong NIMBY proclivities. To compensate for the possible shortfall, NSP, NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp., and Strait Bio-Gen Ltd. cobbled together a slapdash proposal for a biomass generation project using wood waste, and then sought unprecedented prior approval from the Utility and Review Board for the scheme. To no one’s surprise but NSP’s, the UARB didn’t bite, so the utility’s ability to meet the 2010 target remains in serious doubt.
NSP still has one escape hatch. If it fails to meet the 2010 target, if can still comply with the regulations if it meets the target in 2011, and produces an additional amount of new renewable energy in 2011 equal to twice the amount of its 2010 shortfall.
Does your head hurt yet?
Two different standards apply to NSP in 2013:
- Under the province’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (or EGSPA, pronounced, “Eggs-puh” by provincial bureaucrats), 18.5 percent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs must come from renewable sources by 2013. (This extraordinary act was the crowning achievement of former Environment Minister Mark Parent, defeated in the June election, and retired Deputy Minister Bill Lahey, who together somehow steered it through the Tory cabinet and won unanimous legislative approval.)
- Under the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) regulations of the Electricity Act, the 2010 requirement for five percent new renewables increases to 10 percent in 2013, but this time it doesn’t all have to come from third parties. NSP can produce its own renewable energy.
Depending on overall energy consumption, meeting the RES regulations would bring NSP’s overall renewable production to something like 21 percent, well above the 18.5 percent required by Eggs-pah. (I love talking like a bureaucrat.) So the tougher RES standard rules the day. And that brings us to…
Acting Energy Minister Frank “Nanky” Corbett announced today that NSP would be required to produce 25 percent of its overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2015, five years earlier than the Renewed Energy Strategy unveiled last winter would have required. [Disclosure: contrarian spent part of 2007 and much of 2008 under contract with the Department of Energy working on this strategy, mainly as a writer.]
On its face, this is a reasonable decision. It will keep the renewable portion of NSP’s generation increasing at about two percentage points per year, a pretty good clip. It’s much tougher than what the Tories had imposed.
It may also serve as cover for cutting NSP some slack on its probable failure to meet the 2010 standards. Asked about this today, an official of the provincial energy department said, “It’s going to be a challenge for Nova Scotia Power to meet the 2010 target. We’re looking at some different options for dealing with that, and this [relaxing the 2010 deadline] is one option we will present to government.”
“The point is that we need more renewables,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense to get too hung up on this particular target.”
David Wheeler, Dean of Management Studies at Dalhousie University, will carry out a public consultation on how best to reach the tougher targets Corbett announced today. Meeting them won’t be easy, or cheap. It’s a pity the NDP won’t have the $28 million it promised to spend subsidizing dirty, coal-fired eletricity to help with this crucial environmental task.
[Note: This is a long post (my longest ever) about an important but mind-numbingly tedious set of regulations and calculations. It shouldn’t astonish anyone if I got some of the details wrong. If any of contrarian‘s friends in the Department of Energy, the Ecology Action Centre, Nova Scotia Power, the independent wind industry, the Department of Environment, the NDP, or the PC Party have corrections or amplifications to offer, please click the “email a comment” tab at the top of this post.]