ENERGY: How and when Atlantic Canada curbs greenhouse gas emissions is fiercely contested

Brett Bundale Halifax-Chronicle Herald Oct 10 at 12:40 p.m.

How energy policy affects you

People are affected by the decisions surrounding energy in many ways, like billions in cost overruns at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project as well as attempts to harness tidal power in Nova Scotia or solar energy in Prince Edward Island. The success of such initiatives can impact the environment, the economy and/or your power bill. When the price of oil is strong, energy policy can power boom times.

What key issues will the next government have to solve?

For Atlantic Canadians, the next government will have to solve the issues with Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador, such as rate mitigation, working with Indigenous people, and delivering Muskrat energy to other Atlantic provinces. It might also provide legislative and/or financial support to various projects across the east coast, plus continue work on the clean power roadmap for the region.

There are three things energy experts in Atlantic Canada agree on — the region needs to increase energy efficiency, reduce emissions and obtain a clear climate change plan from lawmakers.

But that’s where the consensus on the future of energy on the East Coast ends.

Exactly how the region should curb greenhouse gas emissions — and, more importantly, when — remains fiercely contested.

debate engulfing the energy sector in Atlantic Canada is a small microcosm of the climate change reckoning sweeping the globe, as nations confront harrowing warnings about how human activity is warming the earth and polarizing views of what to do about it.

The path the region will take could largely be shaped at the polls on Oct. 21, when Canadians vote for the next federal government.

Industry experts argue the shift to a low-carbon economy needs to be slow and steady — it can’t happen overnight.

They argue that Atlantic Canada needs time to wean itself off legacy generation, like coal-burning power plants, to ensure stable power supply.

“It's that fine balance of progressing from traditional generation to lesser-emitting generation, while not disrupting the reliability and affordability of the system," says Colleen Mitchell, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy in Saint John.

'Making the problem worse'

insiders also see a growing global demand for energy as an opportunity for the country’s oil and gas reserves.

They say bans on hydraulic fracturing should be lifted and onshore shale gas in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia developed.

They also support the idea of a pipeline east to get western crude to tidewater.

"On a world scale, the need for energy is increasing, not decreasing,” says Ray Ritcey, outgoing CEO of the Maritimes Energy Association, a Dartmouth-based industry organization that represents the energy supply chain in the region.

“The development of renewables and cleantech is happening at a rapid pace, but it’s still not enough to take out either fossil fuel or nuclear generation,” he says.

“As long as those energy opportunities are there, we should pursue them.”

But environmental advocates say hydrocarbons must stay in the ground.

“Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador are all looking for more fossil fuels to dig up and burn and sell,” says Stephen Thomas, energy campaign co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, an environmental charity based in Halifax.

“This is actively making the problem worse and pushing us even further away from a livable planet.”

Advocates say a more aggressive shift off carbon is needed to slash emissions, curb global warming and prevent irreversible damage to the earth.

They reject the industry’s calls for more time to transition away from fuels like oil, gas, and coal.

“The more the transition is delayed, the more severe the transition will have to become,” says Brett Favaro, a research scientist at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University in St. John’s.

He says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — part of the United Nations — has set clear targets, and it’s up to federal and provincial leaders to get us there.

“Anything less is unacceptable,” Favaro adds.

So far this election, each federal party has laid out a different path for reaching — or outright rejecting — targets to curtail pollutants like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The Liberals have pledged to invest revenues from the Trans Mountain Expansion Project into cleantech and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, while the Conservatives have promised to create a national energy corridor to carry Canadian energy and resources from coast to coast.

Meanwhile, the Green Party would cut emissions in half by 2030 — and get to net-zero emissions by 2050 — by keeping fossil fuels in the ground and developing more renewable energy sources.

The NDP would encourage building retrofits and make it easier to own an electric vehicle, and the People’s Party of Canada would grow the oil and gas sector and streamline pipeline approvals.

The different political platforms illustrate the division among Canadians about how to tackle climate change.

“I think we're going to see the continuation of a philosophical debate around fossil fuels for some time," says Todd McDonald, founder and president of Energy Atlantica, a Halifax-based energy consultancy.

“People understand there’s a problem, but our energy sector is still highly dependent on hydrocarbons.”

'At great cost'

Take Nova Scotia’s grid, for example.

Over the last decade, Nova Scotia Power has made significant investments in renewable energy, which now makes up nearly 40 per cent of generation in the province.

But McDonald says those investments have come at a cost to ratepayers, who now pay about double for power.

Yet coal still generates about half the province’s electricity.

Shuttering those plants by 2030 would likely double power bills in the province again, McDonald says.

“We've doubled power rates over the last 10 years. Do we want to do that again?” he says. “We could make electricity and the energy sector cleaner, but it would come at a great cost and nobody would vote for it.”

A landmark United Nations report last month said the earth’s oceans are at a tipping point, with extreme sea-level rise threatening hundreds of millions of people living along the coasts.

It’s alarming research for Atlantic Canada, where much of the population lives in coastal communities.

The region also has the worst per capita greenhouse gas pollution — the average amount of emissions directly generated by one person — in the country.

A 2017 Statistics Canada report found that while the national per capita emission level was 3.9 tonnes, Prince Edward Island was 6.8 tonnes, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia were both 5.8 tonnes and New Brunswick was five tonnes.

“We have a huge carbon footprint,” says Larry Hughes, a Dalhousie University professor and founding fellow of the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance.

“We’re still wedded to hydrocarbons.”

He adds that while progress will continue to be made, it may not happen as rapidly as hoped for.

Even with Muskrat Falls hydropower expected to come online and the potential for more renewables in the region, he says it will be difficult to "decarbonize” the economy and reach emission targets.

Independent energy and environmental advisor Tom Adams agrees, adding that severe “off-carbon” policies could threaten the reliability of electricity service in the Maritimes.

“For the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will continue to be necessities for a significant portion of the power generation needs of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia."

Energy East revival

Duane Lauritsen wants to build a new west-to-east pipeline.

The first iteration of the proposed oil pipeline – called Energy East – was cancelled two years ago, with TransCanada citing “changed circumstances.”

Now Lauritsen, president and CEO of the Montreal-based Canadian Prosperity Pipelines Corp., is renewing the plan to bring oil sands crude and conventional oil to eastern Canada and energy-hungry world markets.

The Alberta energy sector engineer says the pipeline would stretch more than 4,000 kilometres from Hardisty, Alta., to Saint John, N.B., and cost roughly $23 billion.

He’s exploring the opportunity for government funding for about a quarter of the capital, in exchange for an estimated rate-of-return of more than 20 per cent.

“This project is very economically feasible, and Canada needs the money,” Lauritsen says. “We have the resources. We just need the ability to get it out to markets.”

In response to climate change concerns, he adds: “It is desirable to transition off fossil fuels towards energy that is more sustainable.

“But the technology doesn't yet exist to be able to do that sustainably and reliably. To just cut off the taps from fossil fuels overnight is irresponsible.”

LNG export at Goldboro, N.S.

Two massive liquefied natural gas export facilities slated for Nova Scotia continue to make headway.

Goldboro LNG, a Pieridae Energy Canada project, is set to include a liquefaction plant, storage tanks and a marine jetty on the Eastern Shore.

The $10-billion project is anticipated to produce roughly 10 million metric tonnes of LNG a year for markets in Europe, South America, and Asia.

Pieridae spokesman James Millar says the company is on the cusp of closing a deal to buy Shell Canada’s Alberta Foothills sour gas assets, which along with other recent acquisitions would ensure the majority of the gas supply for half the project.

The company has also secured regulatory, environmental and construction permits, and has signed a 20-year deal with a customer, German energy firm Uniper SE.

Millar says the next step is to develop a site design with the help of engineering firm Kellogg Brown & Root Ltd. (KBR) and develop a fixed-price contract.

“This would be the largest mega project in Nova Scotia's history,” he says. “It would create 3,500 jobs during construction and 200 full-time jobs.”

LNG export at Point Tupper, N.S.

About 100 kilometres northeast of Goldboro is the site of Bear Head LNG’s planned export terminal.

The proposed megaproject is located on the Strait of Canso, the deepest ice-free terminal on the northeastern seaboard, and has an estimated cost of $5 billion.

Head LNG – a subsidiary of Australia-based Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd. – has obtained regulatory and environmental approvals, including the green light to export up to eight million tonnes of LNG a year and up to 12 million tonnes starting in 2024.

Earlier this year, the company announced it had signed a labour agreement with local unions and a mutual benefits agreement with the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs

It’s also working with the engineering firm KBR to design the facility.

continue to develop the project with a focus on gas supply and offtake,” Bear Head LNG spokesman Micah Hirschfield said in an email.

When Kirby Mercer looks out at a stretch of blue sea on Newfoundland’s west coast, he pictures Atlantic Canada’s first offshore wind farm.

“This sector is about the explode,” says Mercer, chairperson and CEO of Beothuk Energy Inc. “There’s a huge opportunity to increase renewable energy in the region.”

The St. John’s-based offshore wind energy firm has partnered with Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners to form Atlantic Canada Offshore Developments.

Mercer, president of the joint venture, says the partnership is seeking to build Atlantic Canada’s first offshore wind farm, which would cost roughly a billion dollars and generate 220-megawatts of electricity.

The developer is now working on a test project off the coast of St. George’s Bay in western Newfoundland.

But it hasn’t yet inked an offtake agreement with a utility to buy power, and Mercer says he's exploring options off the coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well.

“This is the fastest-growing energy sector and it will create huge economic spinoffs for the province that gets in on the ground floor."

Tidal power

Harnessing the power of the tides off Nova Scotia’s coast has proven challenging.

But the promise of converting the raw power of the ocean into clean, renewable energy continues to attract developers.

Sustainable Marine Energy and Minas Tidal LP have teamed up to co-develop adjacent berths at the Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy.

The joint-venture company, Spicer Marine Energy Inc., plans to use floating in-stream tidal turbines to deliver up to nine megawatts of energy to the Nova Scotia grid.

Meanwhile, Nova Innovation has applied to develop a 1.5-megawatt tidal energy array in Petit Passage, in the Bay of Fundy area of Nova Scotia.

The Scottish firm says it will use smaller turbines, which reduce engineering, financial and environmental risk.

The province has issued two marine renewable energy permits to Jupiter Hydro Inc. for a tidal electricity project in the Bay of Fundy.

The first permit allows the Calgary startup to test a one-megawatt prototype that is not connected to the electricity grid. The second permit is for up to two megawatts of power that would be sold to the grid.

Jupiter Hydro co-CEO Ross Sinclaire says his turbine floats on the water and uses large screws to generate power, rather than bladed turbines.

“We're the only Canadian technology going in the Bay of Fundy,” he says.

Advanced Reactor Concepts (ARC) Nuclear and Moltex Energy are working towards the development of small modular reactors, which can produce up to 300-megawatts of electricity.

New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corp., a Crown corporation and joint venture between NB Power and the province, has earmarked $10 million to establish a small modular reactor research cluster.

Moltex Energy and ARC Nuclear have both setup offices in Saint John, about 50 kilometres east of the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station – the only nuclear power plant in Atlantic Canada.

The province has lauded the technology as a solution to climate change and rising global energy demands.

But many environmental advocates oppose new nuclear power, citing concerns with safety, waste disposal and cost compared to renewable energy.