By Brenna Walsh and Brian Gifford
We’ve noticed an alarming advertisement on our radios and full-page ads in the Chronicle Herald, the leading newspaper in Nova Scotia. These are paid for by a government that doesn’t usually show interest as far east as the Maritimes. The Government of Alberta’s Tell The Feds campaign is using taxpayer dollars ($8 million to be exact) to promote the notion that the federal government’s draft Clean Electricity Regulations (CER) will leave Albertans and Nova Scotians in the dark.
The kicker? There is zero evidence to support Alberta’s claims for Nova Scotia and the declarations being made about Alberta are easily disputable. This puts the campaign in the arena of misinformation and propaganda, clearly aimed at pushing forward the Alberta government’s own goals at the expense of Canadians.
While there is debate about the best way to move forward with grid decarbonization, attacking the CER through a misinformation campaign does not contribute constructively to the discussion. Focusing on real solutions will make energy affordable and reliable for Albertans. This is the path Nova Scotia is taking. Here are some lessons that Alberta can apply to decarbonizing its own grid reliably and affordably by 2035.
Low-Income Efficiency Program: All three political parties in Nova Scotia have supported HomeWarming, a program that reduces energy bills for low-income homeowners and which more than 24,000 homes have taken advantage of. The average savings have been $500/year for electrically heated and $900/year for oil-heated homes. With rising prices and the addition of heat pumps to the program, savings now average $1,800/ year.
The Alberta government could fund Alberta’s Empower Me Program piloted in 2018-19 to achieve similar savings for low-income households, while reducing demand and pressure on the grid.
Legislated goals and a clean power plan: All three Nova Scotia political parties have pursued increased renewable power on our grid over the past 15 years, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. For example, in 2021 the provincial government legislated goals to get off coal and reach 80 per cent renewable penetration on the grid by 2030. Alberta similarly committed to a coal phaseout by 2030 and is actually gearing up to be off coal six years ahead of schedule.
In Nova Scotia, legislating a coal phaseout and 80 per cent renewables target has sent a clear market signal to Nova Scotia Power, the dominant utility, as well as to renewable developers. Approximately 700 MW of new wind projects have gone through the environmental assessment process here in the first half of 2023, close to twice the amount approved through the government’s 2022 request for proposals.
In October 2023, the Nova Scotia government increased its ambition, releasing a detailed plan on how it would achieve or exceed its 2030 goals, with commitments to adding new wind, solar, batteries and key targets on load management. As part of a joint statement on developing and transmitting reliable, affordable and clean electricity in Atlantic Canada, the federal government and the premiers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have also committed to net-zero electricity grids by 2035, and agree to work toward this within the context of the Clean Electricity Regulations, which accompany key federal funding commitments for interprovincial transmission to support reliability as we move to more renewables on the grid.
There is debate about the least expensive way to accomplish our electricity transition. Power rates are expected to rise as we make this transition, but they will not quadruple as the Alberta government would have you believe. And there is zero evidence to support the claim that there will be blackouts. In Nova Scotia, we are developing real solutions for residents rather than a marketing campaign.
The Alberta government is right about one thing: no one wants to freeze in the dark. But this ignores the increasing risks that Canadians are facing from climate change.
During the 2023 wildfire season, Edmonton residents experienced 299 smoke hours, passing the record set in 2018. In May 2023, an unprecedented 22,000 Nova Scotians were evacuated due to wildfires. The Alberta government must stop spreading false information with taxpayer-funded ads and constructively join the conversation.
Alberta will have more success in the low-carbon economy by supporting low-income residents to make homes more efficient, and power affordable and reliable, and supporting the innovation needed to transition its grid to renewables using its infamous can-do attitude.
Brenna Walsh is the senior energy co-ordinator for Ecology Action Centre. Brian Gifford is with the Nova Scotia Affordable Energy Coalition.