The sky’s not the limit for wind power. The grid is.


Kings South Green Party candidate and deputy leader Brendan MacNeill was the surprising star [*] of last night’s all-party environmental forum. The Acadia environmental studies major, who already has an environmental technology diploma, came across as thoughtful, poised, well-prepared, persuasive.

Unfortunately, like many Nova Scotia environmentalists, MacNeill has been seduced by the independent power producers’ self-serving lobby for guaranteed, above-market rates for their product. After the jump, a brief explanation of why this approach is wrong-headed for Nova Scotia.  

  1. No question, we need to wean ourselves off coal fired electricity, responsible for about half our greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Conservation and renewable sources are the best short-term alternatives.
  3. The most promising renewable sources are intermittent: The wind blows, the sun shines, and the tide flows only some of the time.
  4. Our power grid was not designed for intermittent power sources, and there is a limit to the amount of intermittent electricity it can absorb without uber-expensive upgrades. This is a crucial reality many environmentalists avoid facing.
  5. Two kinds of grid upgrades are needed: more and beefier power lines to transmit electricity from widely scattered renewable power plants (mainly windmills) to the places where the it will be used; more and  beefier connections with neighboring provinces to obtain backup power when our intermittent sources are off line. (Our coal fired plants are almost useless for backing up intermittent sources. They take too long to start up and shut down.)
  6. A recent “wind integration study” calculated that Nova Scotia Power’s current round of wind power purchases will max out the grid’s current capacity to absorb intermittent power.
  7. Nova Scotia Power was able to buy all that renewable energy through a competitive bidding process. The seven-cents-per-kilowatt-hour price is near or below recent prices for electricity produced from conventional sources.

So if NSPI can buy all the renewable energy our grid can currently absorb at market prices, why should we guarantee above-market prices to suppliers who lost out in the competitive process? Coming to grips with sweeping changes in our energy regime will be expensive enough without wasting money.

[* Environment Minister David Morse was also well-prepared, clear, and showed the greatest appreciation of the complexity of energy issues. Epstein, on home turf at the Ecology Action Centre-sponsored event, likewise displayed broad knowledge of the issues, except when he had to toe the party line). Liberal Jane Spurr, a Dal Legal Aid lawyer who is running against Howard in Halifax-Chebcuto, was less impressive.]