Platform Pillar 1: Renewable Energy Strategy

As CBRM District 3 Councillor, I will advocate for the creation of a comprehensive renewable energy strategy.

Glen Murrant – August 16, 2020
Francesco La Camera, dir. gen. of IRENA

“Francesco La Camera, director general of IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency), has suggested the falling cost of renewable energy means … ‘Renewable power is the backbone of any development that aims to be sustainable’.

80% of the solar PV capacity due to be commissioned next year will produce power at lower prices than the cheapest new coal, oil or natural gas options. ‘Crucially, they are set to do so without financial assistance’.” (FORBES, May 2019)

CBRM is in a very unique position – and at a very special time. Unlike most of the urbanized and semi-urbanized regions around the world, our habitat remains relatively unspoiled – and yet almost entirely accessible with little effort.

Our natural renewable resources are abundant, including biomass, hydro, wind and solar. Our federal, provincial, and municipal governments and First Nations are invested in environmental stewardship – protecting our natural resources from exploitation and spoilage.

In 2011 the Bras d’Or Lake and surrounding area was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The ongoing preservation of the region’s biodiversity and the sustainability of our communities – both economic and environmental – are two major factors in attaining and maintaining this special designation.

Renewable energy, as Francesco La Camera alluded to, must become “the backbone” of the new Cape Breton economy. Doing so will establish Cape Breton as a leader in environmental and economic sustainability, generating jobs, spurring innovation, attracting investment, and raising our standard of living.

For the entire twentieth century, and for the first decade of the twenty-first, the global economy was dependant on carbon – i.e. fossil fuels. With the exception of hydro, most of the world’s electricity was generated using non-renewables – coal, oil, and to a lesser extent natural gas, and nuclear.

By 2015, however, partly due to market instability among the major oil producing nations, the consumption of traditional non-renewable energy sources began to decline. Investors began shifting their portfolios away from non-renewables. This response to market pressure increased funding for the research and development of renewables – namely wind and solar PV – yielding the lowest costs per kilowatt of any previously available non-renewables.

Scenarios and Outlooks for Energy. NATURAL GAS WORLD, October 2017. 2.

Aside from solar and wind, other renewables available to to Cape Breton include biomass, hydro, and geothermal.

Biomass is used, contentiously, in some local large-scale operations – most notably the biomass generating station at Port Hawkesbury paper. Biomass has many drawbacks. For starters, it is inherently inefficient (21%-23%). And although Nova Scotia has an abundance of fuel, burning millions of tonnes of pulpwood releases decades of stored carbon back into the atmosphere, contributing the worsening of the effects of climate change. 3.

Biomass harvest. Photo courtesy Jamie Simpson – Halifax Examiner 3.

Hydro is also used locally. Nova Scotia Power’s Wreck Cove generating station has been in operation for over 40 years. Hydroelectric power has the highest capital costs of any renewable energy source. Wreck Cove underwent a $13.5-million refit in 2015, and now requires another $110-million upgrade. 4.

Likewise, the cost of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador exceeded initial estimates by a factor of two – ballooning to over $12-billion. 5.

Geothermal is a very clean and abundant source of renewable energy, but large scale installations are only feasible where geothermal features are near the surface – typically seen in regions with a high degree of tectonic activity such as Iceland or Hawaii.

Wind farms, unlike hydro, produce some of the most affordable electricity available. Advances in light wight composites have made it possible to construct extremely large wind turbines capable of powering a thousand or more homes from a single tower. There are very few drawbacks to wind power. The turbines and towers can be erected quickly with minimal environmental impact. Although some would argue that “wind turbines kill birds”, a 2013 study commissioned by Avian Conservation & Ecology found that bird strikes and habitat loss accounted for an average of only 9 avian deaths per turbine per year. 6.

Solar PV (photovoltaic) until recently had very limited practical use. The panels were too expensive and inefficient. In a remarkable turnaround, however, over the last ten years solar PV has become one of the lowest cost sources of electricity available. These next-generation solar PV panels are made from relatively new silicon compounds and can produce more electricity with less sunlight. They cost less to produce than previous generations, and have a longer service life (retaining up to 75% efficiency after 25-years).

These advancements haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2016, solar PV installations surpassed all other renewable energy installations. By 2018 the capacity of new solar PV installations was double that of wind power. 7.

Source: The global transition to clean energy, explained in 12 charts. VOX.COM, June 2019. 7.

Of all the energy sources, renewable or non-renewable, solar PV is the only one that can be feasibly scaled to meet the demands of virtually any application. Solar PV installations can span several hectares to provide electricity to a population of millions, or can be mounted on a residential rooftop to provide electricity for one family. Solar PV installations are nonintrusive, making them ideally suited for use in both urban and rural settings.

Detractors will often point to environmental concerns around solar PV panels – toxic manufacturing processes, and disposal of spent panels. They neglect the acknowledge the catastrophic impact of non-renewables on the global ecosystem. They also fail to mention that panels are made partly from recycled aluminum and plastics, and they are 85% recyclable at the end of their service life.

The long held assumption is that the Atlantic Canadian climate and latitude are not conductive to solar PV electrical generation. This has been proven conclusively to be untrue, as is evident in the tremendous volume of solar PV electrical generation in the UK, Denmark, and Germany – all of which are further north than Cape Breton, with fewer hours annual sunshine.

CBRM Solar Transformation

Now that we understand the economic and environmental viability of generating electricity with solar PV, the questions remains:

” How will it help CBRM? ”

Let’s start with large-scale installations: these are utility class solar farms – rows and rows of solar panels in a field spanning several acres. These would be owned by Nova Scotia Power (NSP) – just as they own the Wreck Cover hydro station and a number of wind farms. It is very unlikely that NSP would pass on any savings to the consumer. After all, NSP is a for-profit corporation. Even though NSP customers wouldn’t see a rate cut right away, there would be immediate and long-term economic spin-offs for CBRM.

Case Study: Summerside, PEI

Summeride PEI has a population of just under 15,000 and lies at 46.4o N latitude.

Solar array powering Credit Union Place in Summerside PEI. 10.

Summerside is starting construction of two large-scale solar plants this year: a 21-megawatt array 8. near the community of Linkletter, and a 10-megawatt array 9. on the site of the former CFB Summerside military base. These two projects, announced in January and August, will each take up to two years to complete and will create at least 200 new jobs for the region. The government of Canada is contributing $39-million, while the PEI government is providing $33-million.

According to a press release from the city of Summerside, these large-scale solar installations will:

“ allow the city to meet 62 per cent of its electricity needs through renewable energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 21,000 tonnes per year ”

In 2017 the city installed a 1,544 panel array 9. at Credit Union Place (similar in size to Sydney’s Centre 200). By switching that one facility to solar power, the city saved taxpayers over $100,000 per year in electricity costs. ACOA contributed $1.5-million to the project.

While these large-scale projects don’t translate directly into lower power bills for residential electricity customers (i.e. rate-payers), the potential economic benefits to the local region makes the construction of large-scale solar PV plants more than worthwhile.

Solar PV Installations feasible for CBRM

With these precedents set by Summerside PEI – a city with 1/5th the population of CBRM – it stands to reason that federal funding for solar projects of similar scope and scale would be available to CBRM.

Small-scale (rooftop) solar PV installations are usually owned by the homeowner and tied to the power grid under a net-metering agreement with NSP. Net metering systems produce an excess of electricity during the day. The excess power is fed back onto the grid and the homeowner receives a credit from NSP. At night, while the panels are dormant, the home draws power from the grid – using up a portion of the accumulated credit. The goal is to balance the production capacity of the system with the energy needs of the home.

The benefits to the home owner are simple:

The homeowner takes out a loan for the system. Rather than paying a monthly power bill, the homeowner makes a loan payment. But while power bills will continue indefinitely, and climb with each rate increase, the loan is paid off in 10-12 years – providing the homeowner with free electricity.

Graph: 25 year comparison of paying electrical utility bill versus Solar Panel Loan
Comparison: Nova Scotia Power bill vs. Solar Panel bank loan.

Over the service life of typical net metering system, the average homeowner can expect to save $35,000-$40,000 in home energy costs.

The market value of solar PV equipped homes is 4% higher than conventionally powered homes.

Less tangible benefits, though no less important, include pride of ownership and sense of community – knowing that your home is producing energy for your neighbours and lessening the environmental impact associated with energy production.

The benefits to the community:

As a whole, CBRM will benefit from the combined usage of both large-scale installations – like Summerside – and small-scale residential installations. This transition will set off a chain reaction; a series of stages and spin-offs in a cycle of growth and reinvestment:

  1. Initially, the installation of new solar PV projects will increase employment and create new business opportunities leading to …
  2. Increased local spending at the consumer level, further increasing employment in the retail and service sectors.
  3. With more people working, there will be an increase in housing starts and property values will rise.
  4. This in turn will generate additional tax revenue, allowing for re-investment in municipal services and capital projects – creating more employment opportunities and additional economic spin-off.
  5. Many of the new jobs created will be in STEM fields – employing local graduates from CBU and NSCC, but also inviting domestic migration from other Canadian cities, and immigration of skilled professionals from abroad.
  6. As the municipality experiences the early and mid-stages of revitalization, CBRM’s “quality of place” improves – a key factor in attracting further investment and domestic migration.
  7. Tourism will increase as the region’s economic climate improves, leading to increased employment in the hospitality, food services, and travel sectors.
  8. As more people visit and move to the region, there will be an increase in commercial construction projects: new apartment buildings, condominiums, hotels, retail, and entertainment.

Financing the Transformation

The large-scale projects will require funding from all levels of government, as well as investment of other entities such as Nova Scotia Power. From the example set by Summerside, PEI, we know this is possible. The Federal government has funding in place, earmarked exactly for projects like this – which will help Canada meet it’s carbon emission goals. This funding won’t fall out of thin air into our hands. We will have to work for it – communicating and collaborating with other government agencies and private sector entities.

Many homeowners will require financial assistance and program guidance to make their residential solar installations a reality. As with the larger projects, there is federal and provincial money earmarked for these smaller projects.

CBRM can also work with any number of not-for-profits (such as credit unions) to secure affordable low interest loans for those who might not normally qualify for financing. CBRM itself could contribute financially by providing additional incentives to qualified community-revitalization groups.

Final Note

This is not a one-person job. It will require the cooperation and coordination of CBRM council and administration. CBRM needs a council (and more specifically a councillor) with the vision and skills to begin putting the right pieces in place – to get the ball rolling, so to speak. We need a council who will not accept the status quo of population decline and rising poverty rates. The timing is critical. If we don’t act soon – CBRM will be left behind.

Your vote for me WILL make the difference.

Sources

  1. Renewable Energy Costs Take Another Tumble, Making Fossil Fuels Look More Expensive Than Ever. Dominic Dudley, FORBES, May 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2019/05/29/renewable-energy-costs-tumble/#16babbc1e8ce
  2. Scenarios and Outlooks for Energy. NATURAL GAS WORLD, October 2017. https://www.naturalgasworld.com/ngw-magazine-2/18-scenarios-and-outlooks-for-energy-55326
  3. Despite warnings that burning biomass does not address climate change, Nova Scotia Power burned more biomass in 2018 than in 2017. Jennifer Henderson, HALIFAX EXAMINER, April 2019. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/province-house/despite-warnings-that-burning-biomass-does-not-address-climate-change-nova-scotia-power-burned-more-biomass-in-2018-than-in-2017/
  4. Nova Scotia Power proposes $110-million modernization at Wreck Cove. Nancy King, CHRONICLE HERALD, March 2020. https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/business/local-business/nova-scotia-power-proposes-110-million-modernization-at-wreck-cove-418257/
  5. Audit finds Muskrat Falls cost overruns were obvious soon after project was sanctioned. Holly MacKenzie-Sutter, GLOBE AND MAIL, February 2019. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-audit-finds-muskrat-falls-cost-overruns-were-obvious-soon-after/
  6. Canadian Estimate of Bird Mortality Due to Collisions and DirectHabitat Loss Associated with Wind Turbine Developments. Zimmerling, J. R., A. C. Pomeroy, M. V. d’Entremont, and C. M. Francis. 2013. AVIAN CONSERVATION AND ECOLOGY. http://www.ace-eco.org/vol8/iss2/art10/
  7. The global transition to clean energy, explained in 12 charts. VOX.COM, June 2019. https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/6/18/18681591/renewable-energy-china-solar-pv-jobs
  8. $69M Plan for Summerside Solar Plan Announced Tuesday. CBC NEWS, January 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-solar-farm-summerside-1.5426227
  9. Governments Unveil $25M Solar Energy Project at Sleman Park. CBC NEWS, August 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-solar-energy-slemon-park-1.5684744
  10. Credit Union Place Solar Panels and Storage Battery Now Online in Summerside. JOURNAL PIONEER, November 2017. https://www.journalpioneer.com/news/local/credit-union-place-solar-panels-and-storage-battery-now-online-in-summerside-162826/
  11. City of Summerside website; BIG POSSIBILITIES. http://www.bigpossibilities.ca/news-newsletters/city-of-summerside-credit-union-place-smart-storage-demonstration-project

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