COMMENTARY: Nova Scotia’s renewable energy plans must not damage critical ecosystems like Wentworth
In February, Protect Wentworth Valley urged the provincial government to declare the Wentworth Valley area of Cumberland and Colchester counties as a wilderness area to protect the Mainland moose and to stop proposed industrial wind farm development. Contributed - Contributed
THE PROTECT WENTWORTH COMMITTEE • Guest Opinion
The Protect Wentworth committee: Leslie Dykeman, Catherine Johnson, Dr. Joanna Zed, Audrey Conroy, Heather Allen-Johnson, Gregor Wilson and Nancy Frame.
Re: Premier Tim Houston’s guest column, “Environment, consumers would fare better under provincial plan,” Sept. 1, responding to the federal government’s public letter that explained the provincial response “did not meet the pan-Canadian approach to carbon pollution pricing for 2023.”
Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said: “You are proposing to end Nova Scotia’s cap and trade system, with no replacement that would put a price on pollution.”
The mission of our group, Protect Wentworth Valley (www.ProtectWentworthValley.com), is to protect the ecosystems, natural beauty, recreational value, species at risk, economy and quality of life of the Wentworth Corridor. We are committed to the land and its ecological significance for Nova Scotia. The area is important for biodiversity and includes a critical ecological wildlife corridor for many species at risk and 61 essential habitat of the endangered mainland moose.
It appears Minister Guilbeault does not have confidence in the made-in-Nova Scotia plan to reduce the carbon footprint that the premier and his government have committed to. We share Minister Guilbeault’s concerns.
Our group cannot comment on all aspects of the provincial plan, as its release is overdue. Our knowledge and experience related to the province’s recent RFP for 1100 MWHs of renewable energy has caused us to question the provincial commitment and process related to renewable energy and reduction of our carbon footprint.
In response to the premier’s column, we respectively provide the following observations:
Premier Houston refers to Nova Scotia’s 36 per cent reduction in emissions since 2005 as being second highest in the country. We question whether this statistic considers the significant loss in industrial emission producers who have reduced operations or shut down, including Bowater and Northern Pulp. We would ask the premier to clarify this statistic to determine what portion of the reduction is due to new innovative renewable energy projects and what is attributable to reduction in industrial capacity.
Premier Houston refers to the “made-in-Nova Scotia plan that builds on the climate leadership we have shown for years.” The recent Nova Scotia rate base procurement project responsible for awarding power purchasing agreements with Nova Scotia Power was administered, reviewed and decided by an American company that is a global climate advisor with involvement in large projects around the world. Our group has made attempts to meet with the premier and Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton since the RFP was issued in February 2022 but were not granted access, with the explanation the decisions and process was under the direction of the U.S. administrator. Is this truly a Nova Scotia plan reflective of the concerns, values, expectations and culture of Nova Scotians? We have provided information and feedback to the U.S. administrator with no response.
Premier Houston refers to “the creation of jobs and business opportunities in the green economy.” We note that it appears that a significant portion of the ownership, financing and land ownership of the five wind turbine projects awarded on Aug. 17 as announced by the U.S. administrator of the RFP was represented by those living out of province and, in some cases, our country. We ask the premier and his government how much of the economic benefits of these “green projects” will be returned to residents of the communities who are most at risk from the negative impacts of these projects.
Premier Houston explains that his government’s plan will “cut emissions by at least 53 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2030.” Again, we ask how much of this reduction is the result of reduced industrial capacity and what is attributable to new renewable energy initiatives? We also question if these calculations consider the emissions created by the devastation to our forest, ecosystems, biodiversity and environment that these projects create, including road building, tonnes of concrete and loss of forest (including old growth forest that our government has recently committed to).
Premier Houston states that his government is showing what “real climate leadership and action looks like.” We suggest to Premier Houston that real climate leadership and action would include a process where:
Before any more industrial-sized energy RFPs are released, the province should complete a provincial integrated land-use planning process. Nova Scotia needs landscape level planning of land that can support future goals protecting 20 per cent of the province by 2030, protecting biodiversity, establishing critical ecological corridors across the province and protecting remaining old growth forests. Once that work is complete, then the province could determine what areas are appropriate for industrial projects.
Our elected officials, through government departments/staff, are responsible to take accountability for the review and awarding of these projects, rather than delegating to a U.S. administrator. We are asking that the voice of Nova Scotia communities and citizens who have made their views very clear on this process be heard and responded to.
The Nova Scotia government complete carbon emission modeling prior to the issuance of any further RFP’s so that they and all Nova Scotians understand the true reduction in carbon emissions, considering the loss of forest and other devastation to our land and environment.
The Nova Scotia government take responsibility for ensuring that the specifications and regulations monitoring these projects be consistent across these projects, so that all Nova Scotians are provided with the same safeguards to reduce the significant risk present, including setback requirements, noise levels, bonding, responsibility for damage/breakdowns etc. Currently, the province, while mandating these projects, has downloaded the responsibility to protect Nova Scotians from the related risk to municipalities. This has resulted in confusion, conflicts, a major duplication of effort and cost, requiring numerous municipalities to struggle with the same issues of standards and risk and lack of similar protection across the province.
The Nova Scotia premier, other elected officials and provincial government employees should listen to the concerns of community residents, including making themselves available to gain an understanding of the concerns and perspective of Nova Scotians. Our group has made numerous unsuccessful attempts to meet with the premier and other elected officials in the last several months. It is public record that the proponent who received approval of their industrial wind turbine project in the Wentworth Valley through the provincial process hired a lobbyist registered in Ottawa. The purpose of the contract with the lobbyist included: “seeking to raise awareness amongst political and bureaucratic stakeholders with the federal government for its project based in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.” It is also public record that the Ottawa lobbyist “has arranged or expects to arrange one or more meetings on behalf of the client between a public office holder and any other person in the course of this undertaking.” We are a volunteer community group and do not have the same resources available as the successful proponent in the Wentworth Valley. We cannot afford to hire a lobbyist to raise our voice to our elected officials. As residents committed to our community and our future generations, we are asking that our government make every effort to raise their awareness of the risk that these projects present and to ensure that a truly “Nova Scotia solution to climate crisis is established.”
In closing, we need to emphasize that our group, like the premier, is committed to fighting climate change action. We would like to remind our government that the most cost effective way to fight climate change is to protect forests, wetlands and peatlands. Energy efficiency and renewable energy projects will also play very important roles. We are not committed to these projects at any cost to our environments, ecosystems, quality of life, community economic development, species at risk, etc. The location, size and extent of these projects must be carefully considered and monitored to ensure they are truly green and not providing a level of risk that Nova Scotia communities should not have to bear.
In addition, we need to ensure that communities impacted by these projects are the major recipients of the economic benefits. We are hoping the premier and other readers’ reaction will not be to simply dismiss our concerns on the basis that we are “Nimbys” (Not in my back yard). We recognize that it is an easy response that does not require any attention or education to determine our concerns are real, and we encourage all to visit our website at www.Protectwentworth.com for additional information.
We are encouraged and excited about the premier’s and governments’ commitments to protection of wilderness and ecosystems, protection of the mainland moose and protection of old growth forest. We congratulate the premier on these announcements. These are critical to our legacy to future generations, and we need to ensure that these commitments are consistent with the location of wind turbine projects in our province. We are hoping that he will seriously consider our comments and that we will have an opportunity to meet with him to have further discussions, and that he and his government will truly be “real climate leaders.”