Politicians will be punished at polls for energy policies

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA - Nova Scotians, like the majority of voters around the world, are developing a new attitude towards political leadership, demanding that our elected politicians act on behalf of the citizens they represent, rather than for the benefit of themselves and their privileged friends.

Acts of political self-interest and ideological shortsightedness have been the hallmarks of Nova Scotian policymakers spanning several centuries, from the era of Charles Tupper to the present day. While there are many examples of how the current government has failed to serve the public interest, its disappointing energy policy and lack of support for independent renewable energy producers in favour of continued domination by Nova Scotia Power is one of the saddest tales.

More than 80 per cent of our electricity in Nova Scotia is derived from imported coal, according to GPI Atlantic’s Genuine Progress Index 2008. What is most unfortunate about this fact is not the effect it may have on asthma and cancer rates, not the effect it has on the affordability of energy, not the energy security dangers inherent in reliance on a foreign fossil fuel source, or even the effect it has on the environment. What is most unfortunate about this fact it is that unless we elect a government that is willing to tackle the problem, we are not going to change it!

In the early 1990s, the government under Premier Donald Cameron chose to sell our interests in the publicly owned Nova Scotia Power Corporation in order to pay down the province’s debt. Given our current situation – citizens are struggling to pay their ever-increasing power bills, cancer rates are inexplicably soaring, and Nova Scotia is one of the worst per capita generators of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, according to the Genuine Progress Index 2008 – how should we now judge the decision to turn over our electricity supply to a profit-driven corporate monopoly?

The current government’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act introduced in 2007, requiring that 18 and a half per cent of the total electricity needs of the province would be obtained from renewable energy sources by the year 2013, was the government’s recognition that we have a problem in Nova Scotia.

That it also required Nova Scotia Power to purchase this renewable energy from independent producers meant that the policymakers saw the need for a diverse, competitive marketplace. The hope was that maybe soon, we could begin to rectify our biggest problem, and a healthy, locally owned renewable energy industry could begin to thrive. But this was too good to be true.

In March of this year, Energy Minister Barry Barnet announced the government’s plan to change the rule which would prevent NSP from buying up the independent power producers and the projects that they had painstakingly developed. His claim was that this would allow the province to meet its renewable targets on time; but the fact is, under the lowest cost tender rules for procurement, few of these projects ever had a chance.

If our government was truly concerned about this, it would lend money to these companies; or at least backstop the loans to the energy companies which have already signed power purchase agreements with NSP. His department’s most recent claim, that the grid system in Nova Scotia cannot handle any significant amounts of wind power, simply highlights the unwillingness on the part of our government and the utility to spend money on the necessary upgrades.

While the government can find a billion dollars in its stimulus bill to spend on roads, it cannot find a fraction of that amount to lend to independent power producers to create a diverse, independent and healthy energy infrastructure. Though the absence of vision of these politicians is disheartening to most of us, many are simply bored with politicians who lack the integrity and courage to do what is right on behalf of the people they stand for. This is the new attitude that is going to bring better things for the people of Nova Scotia, and make for a very exciting election in the months ahead.


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