Ray of hope for Nova Scotia

NOVA SCOTIA - The head of an Ontario energy company looking to expand into Nova Scotia says he hopes a new renewable energy strategy under development for the province doesn’t forget the sun.

Steven Burke, president of Total Energy Care, says the province has a chance to move ahead of the rest of Canada in terms of energy sustainability if the consulting team looking at the issue embraces conservation and considers solar power options along with wind and biofuel strategies.

"Like it or not, the price of oil is going to rise," Mr. Burke said. "The sun is never going to go up in price."

The province has committed to generating 25 per cent of the province’s electricity with renewable energy by the year 2015. A team from Dalhousie University, led by management dean David Wheeler, will run a series of consultation sessions beginning September 10.

A final report is due by the end of December.

Mr. Burke said he has met briefly with Mr. Wheeler and plans to submit a detailed list of recommendations to the consultation team, but he is also trying to rally support in the community at large.

"We have to make sure we are not thinking about projects that are going to be built in the middle of nowhere and require massive transmission lines," he said. "It seems far more sensible to focus on power consumption and create energy closer to where it is used."

Europe is not a perfect model, he said, but in Germany nine out of 10 homes use renewable energy in some way. In Canada that number is closer to two in 10.

"Some manufacturers say there is the potential for seven of every 10 homes in North America to make use of solar thermal options. That seems a little optimistic," Mr. Burke said.

"Our five-year goal would be to see one in every 10 houses using some kind of solar system."

Mr. Burke’s focus of work is in Ontario where he works with 25 contractors, but he plans to set up a Nova Scotia branch soon. Specific proposals he would like to see implemented include:

• Requiring builders to rough in solar and alternative energy options. It would then be up to homeowners to decide whether to use them.

• Beefing up incentives and education so consumers and business owners understand their options. He said few building owners know that $400,000 is available in federal incentives to install thermal solar systems.

• Giving a homebuyer the right to demand an energy audit of the home. Buyers should have the right to know the level of energy efficiency of the homes they are buying.

• Ensuring that licenced professionals are doing installations. During the energy crisis in the 1970s, unskilled people jumped into the green movement and operated fly-by-night businesses that disappeared when subsidies evaporated. As a result, Mr. Burke said, inappropriate and substandard equipment was installed and then failed to operate, leaving a generation of consumers discouraged.

Richard Vinson, owner of Creative Solar in Halifax, agrees that incentives need to be preserved and enhanced, especially at the builder level.

"You qualify for the 15 per cent provincial incentive if you retrofit for solar, but there is no incentive for the builder to install it in the first place," he said.

A few builders put in the wiring during initial construction, he said, but most won’t unless the customer expresses some interest.

A model home showing off all the latest solar options would be an invaluable educational tool, Mr. Vinson said. There are now few places he can send interested clients to look at systems in operation where they can feel confident they are getting independent information and not being sold a specific product.

"I don’t know who would pick up the cost for it," he said, and he has not heard of any industry move to make a presentation on the topic to Mr. Wheeler.

Don Roscoe, a Halifax solar design professor and author of a Canadian solar home design manual, said he’s not interested in pushing the solar agenda with politicians. He said he has tried in the past and found it frustrating, time-consuming and ultimately unproductive.

"I got involved with Ottawa and it was a shark tank. I got taken advantage of by people out to feather their own nest," he said. "The government hasn’t been much interested in solar or energy conservation in recent years, so it’s good to see them finally showing some interest."


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