In 1979, as Iranians tossed out American marionette Shah Reza Pahlavi, world oil prices spiked at an all-time high of $24 per barrel. There were shortages and line-ups at gas stations, and the precariousness of the oil-dependent system was laid bare, again, for all to see. Energy alternatives were sought out, or were at least discussed in relative earnest.
Here in Nova Scotia, in October of '79, the Department of Mines and Energy produced the contingency plan meant to ween the province off of unstable middle-eastern crude. Energy: A Plan for Nova Scotia, contained numerous suggestions and options (many of them coal-related, go figure!). The Plan contained all of one page on the potential of solar energy. This is the conclusion it drew:
“Solar conditions in Nova Scotia are essentially no different from those in Southern Ontario...Solar energy will play a significant role in the future that can be brought closer through limited government intervention. The exploitation of passive solar, the promotion of active solar, and the monitoring of photovoltaics require further study.”
At the time, it was true. Worldwide, photovoltaic production in 1983 stood at 21.3 Megawatts. But the production of photovoltaic arrays has been doubling every two years since then, and we are now dealing with a far cheaper, far more effective technology. The application of technology, however, and it's introduction into the mainstream, is either helped or hindered by incentives to produce.
Ontario, with similar solar conditions, is estimated to have 2500 Megawatts of solar power developed by 2015. Ontario's Feed-In Tariff program, by which projects receive cash incentives to feed the grid, has experienced growing pains, but they are related to an over-abundance of applications to produce actual, renewable, energy. Germany, a world leader in solar power, but blessed with less sunshine than here in Nova Scotia, as of May 2011, had 18,000 Megawatts of solar PV energy.
Here in Nova Scotia, in 2010 this current NDP government released the “Renewable Electricity Plan” (REP), which aims to have Nova Scotia using 25% renewable electricity by 2015. It is an aggressive target, and should be the document that brings us into the light. 25% renewable energy certainly sounds promising...until one begins to understand the myriad follies of the REP.
In the bizarro-world of the REP, whole tree harvesting and burning is considered renewable. Existing hydro power from Quebec, arguably greener than black coal burning, is eschewed for multi-billion dollar, dam projects in Labrador, the cost and environmental impact of which are suspect (but also just happen to be Emera-funded projects). In the REP, tidal projects are offered massive rates of return, found nowhere else in the world, for unproven technology. And the wind component of the plan is marred by allegations of nepotism.
As for solar power? The one area where the urban Haligonian, not to mention their rural counterparts, might wrestle some small measure of control away from the Emeras and Nova Scotia Powers of the world, and feed the grid for pay? That's not yet for you, says the REP.
“At this time, there is no solar COMFIT. Although solar technologies are technically feasible, they still come at a high cost that could significantly affect electricity rates if supported by a feed-in tariff. However, Government recognizes the current value and potential of solar energy and has included it as a qualifying renewable resource under the enhanced net metering program. In several years, the cost of solar technology will change and solar will likely have a larger role in the renewable energy mix.”
In several years we might be all submerged under rising sea levels. In several years we might be engaged in end-game strategies against Iran. In several years the CEOs (Chris Huskilson took home $3 million plus last year) and shareholders of Nova Scotia Power might be far richer too. And maybe therein lies the problem.
A Renewable Electricity Plan that actually provided an incentive for installing and using photovoltaic energy would involve sharing the profits of power generation with others. So while the notion of renewable energy is enticing, if breaking up the privately-owned power monopoly isn't part of the plan, then the REP just smells like it was written by a privately-owned power monopoly, or a government whose strings are getting pulled by a privately-owned power monopoly. There is no solar component to the REP. And that makes no sense.
“I think maybe their data was based on something they had from five or ten years ago, not the current data.” says Brian Rose, of Appleseed Energy. “I think that what happened was that in Nova Scotia it is not a good economic situation here for young businesses starting up in the solar industry. So you don't have a strong lobby.”
The ray of sunshine in all this is that the Renewable Energy Plan is up for review in 2012. If public interest can be captured, and a strong lobby group can be created, then the REP could theoretically be amended. Is there hope for a solar Feed-In Tariff in next year's review process? Rose certainly thinks so.
“We feel really strongly about empowering people in general, and the policy they have right now for renewable energy really pretty much leaves small businesses and individuals out of the whole picture. There's a giant market for people who want to secure their energy future. Any incentive would make it less expensive, and would just jump us ahead in time. It's coming. Anytime we hear that Nova Scotia Power is raising the rates, there's more people that are thinking “I'm helpless to this.” The way to become empowered in that situation is to produce all the electricity that you need. You can do that on an individual basis. You can do that as a small business.”
The phone number for the Nova Scotia Department of Energy is (902) 424-4575
Ask to speak to the Honourable Charlie Parker.