News

1. Renewable energy

Wind turbines under construction at the South Canoe Wind Farm near New Russell. Photo: South Canoe

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

By the end of this year, Nova Scotia could be generating as much as 60% of its electricity from renewable sources such as water and wind.

That’s the upbeat progress report Karen Gatien, the deputy minister of Natural Resources & Renewables, presented to politicians who attended yesterday’s Economic Development and Natural Resources Committee meeting.

Gatien noted that 10 years ago, 80% of our energy came from fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. She said the transition is going well and the province remains committed and “on track” to achieving 80% of power from renewable sources by 2040 and getting to net-zero emissions by 2050.

That’s all good news but could turn out to be overly optimistic in the short term while the long-term prospects appear better. Today, Nova Scotia Power generates 30% of our electricity from green or renewable sources. Getting to 60% by the end of 2022 is not a certainty; it depends on how much hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador flows over the Maritime Link cable to Nova Scotia. Four years of delay meant Nova Scotia Power was not able to reach its legislated target of 40% renewables in 2020 or 2021 and so the previous government agreed to extend the deadline until the end of this year.

“There are challenges that remain with delivery over the Labrador Island Link,” David Miller, the executive director of Clean Electricity told the Committee. “It is still unclear whether Nova Scotia Power will achieve that 40% by end of 2022… But it is hoped they will be able to obtain the full Nova Scotia Block as well as additional deliveries of energy that had been delayed. So they (Nova Scotia Power) are still targeting to hit that 40% compliance over three years.”

Muskrat Falls is supposed to supply 10% of the Nova Scotia grid with Nova Scotia Power also having first dibs on the purchase of another 10%. The Maritime Link has the capacity to deliver up to 30% of what we need. But ongoing repairs to the software that controls the flow from Labrador mean that while performance is much improved, it’s still not predictable for 2022.

In January, the coldest month of the year, Nova Scotia received more than 10%. In February, we received 9.5% of our needs, and so far in March, reports from Newfoundland indicate no energy has arrived while work continues on the transmission issues.

Still, the contract for Muskrat Falls runs for 35 years and the Maritime Link is the largest component in a “suite” of options proposed to move Nova Scotia away from coal and towards a greener future.

The province has issued a tender through a third-party administrator for 350 MW or roughly 10% of our electricity needs to be supplied from more wind farms, solar, and small hydro projects owned by companies that are not Nova Scotia Power. So far, 25 bidders have responded because the price of these technologies has declined as more provinces and countries adopted them.

“Basically, Nova Scotia has tons of wind,” said Keith Collins, executive director for Clean Energy with Natural Resources & Renewables. “It’s cheap and there are lots of potential sites where it can go. Some are near communities that may not be in love with it, but they don’t have to take it because there are lots of places where it can go where it will work and it will be cheap. It’s not like years ago when wind cost 10-15 cents per kilowatt hour, now it is 4-5-6 cents an hour. Wind is cheap, it’s cheap as dirt, it’s cheaper than coal.”

OK. Let’s do the math. Today we are at 30% renewable sources of electricity. Within a few years, 350 MW of new wind farms and other renewable Projects should supply 10% of the grid. Muskrat Falls should supply another 20- 30%, bringing the total amount of electricity generated from renewable sources to 60- 70%. There’s room for more solar and other sources as well, but it looks like hitting the 80% goal post will require either importing hydro from Quebec through the proposed Atlantic Loop megaproject or, betting on what Gatien called “emerging technologies” — these are currently too expensive or too unproven but might be ready in another 10 years. Gatien includes offshore wind turbines and Bay of Fundy tidal projects in this category.

Natural gas?

Meanwhile, there’s the problem of how to shutdown coal plants eight years from now without a reliable source of energy to keep us warm in the winter when the wind and the sun may or may not be available. Improving battery technology may be part of the answer. Meanwhile, both the premier of New Brunswick and the president of Emera have expressed doubts about whether a major piece of infrastructure like the Atlantic Loop can even be built in time. Without it, a key component of Nova Scotia Power’s Plan B includes substituting natural-gas turbines for coal-fired generating stations. Here’s how the idea is expressed in Nova Scotia Power’s “Integrated Resource Plan” from November 2020:

The IRP analysis has shown that combustion turbines are the lowest-cost domestic source of new firm capacity; they replace retiring thermal capacity in all resource plans. These units are also fast-acting, meaning they can quickly respond to changes in wind and non-firm imported energy. They operate at low capacity factors, meaning that they facilitate integration of non-emitting resources and do not significantly contribute to GHG emissions.

Natural gas combustion turbines are Nova Scotia Power’s default position if not enough imports or locally sourced renewables are available to replace coal. NDP Dartmouth South MLA Claudia Chender said the latest International Panel on Climate Change report makes it clear that transitioning from one fossil fuel to another is not an acceptable route to prevent what is shaping up to be natural disaster on a global scale.

“Is natural gas still on the table as part of our energy mix?” Chender asked Gatien.

“At this point, we are looking at all of our options,” replied Gatien. “Particularly to get to 2030. There is that other 20%. We haven’t been given direction to put it on or off the table. But we are making every effort to truly get to net-zero by 2050. That is why we are looking at tidal … there other forms of renewable energy that aren’t ready to go to market at this point we could explore because we do recognize the concerns around natural gas.”

Keith Collins, executive director for Clean Energy, said while the ability to obtain firm power from Quebec would speed up the transition “from coal to clean,” the long-term plan filed by Nova Scotia Power shows there are “multiple paths” to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and that this objective is doable. As for how much natural gas Nova Scotia will need to rely upon in the next five to eight years, Collins said the federal government is currently reviewing the options around natural gas as it develops a Clean Electricity Standard. Collins said while there are concerns about carbon emissions, there are also concerns about timing and whether all provinces have sufficient capacity to keep the lights and heat on as existing fossil fuel plants shut down.

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2. Province approves Halifax’s controversial garbage processing plan

A worker operates conveyer belts in the front end processor at Otter Lake in a photo in a slide deck included in a staff report to council last year. Photo: HRM

Despite some public wariness, changes are coming to the Otter Lake landfill, where HRM dumps its residential garbage.

The province has approved Halifax regional council’s request —  from last July — to deactivate the Front End Processor (FEP) and Waste Stabiliazation Facility (WSF) at the landfill. If you’re like me, those words and acronyms mean nothing to you, so I’ll let Zane Woodford explain:

As the Halifax Examiner reported last year, the FEP and WSF are designed to work in tandem to keep compost and other unwanted materials out of the landfill. The process is supposed to keep birds, rodents, and smells at bay, and keep groundwater uncontaminated. But a string of consultants’ reports dating back to 2013 has found there’s little value in keeping that process running. According to municipal staff, HRM’s limits on garbage bags per household and its requirement for clear bags has further eliminated the need for the FEP and WSP because there’s less compost ending up in garbage.

Not everyone agrees there’s no longer a need for these waste-filtering processes though. Last year, the public were consulted on the proposed changes. Of those who responded to surveys, most had concerns with deactivating the FEP and WSF. Additionally, in last summer’s provincial election, then-premier Iain Rankin said his government would deny the requested changes if re-elected. (Rankin’s father is the executive director of the Community Monitoring Committee, which is opposed to the deactivation of the FEP and WSF).

But Rankin’s party lost, and now the controversial deactivations will go ahead. At least, they will after a few conditions are met.

Read Woodford’s full report here.

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3. Pushback against sale of land next to historic Fort Edward

Fort Edward Historic Site in Windsor. Photo: Parks Canada

“The organization representing the province’s Acadians says outside momentum against the possible sale of municipally-owned lands adjacent to Fort Edward National Historic Site is growing,” writes Yvette d’Entremont this morning.

At issue are two municipally owned lots adjacent to Fort Edward National Historic Site, located at 67 Fort Edward St. in Windsor.

West Hants Regional Municipality is considering selling abutting lots at 36 and 65 Fort Edward St.

“Fort Edward is intertwined in every major occurrence and the day-to-day life of our region since before recorded history. For centuries, the Mi’kmaq people knew this place as an ideal area for hunting and fishing,” West Hants Historical Society president Shirley Pineo wrote in a November 16 letter to the mayor and West Hants councillors.

“In the 1600s, the Acadians had a chapel on the grounds that became Fort Edward in 1770. Shortly thereafter, in 1755, over 1,000 Acadians were wrongfully deported from the region and an influx of American Planters ensued.”

Some have concerns about losing the view plane from Fort Edward should a new development be built on the adjacent grounds. There are also concerns that artifacts and remains connected to the former church could be found on the neighbouring site and might be lost forever if the lot is disturbed.

Read d’Entremont’s full article to learn about the rich history of the Fort Edward site.

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4. Halifax council approves heritage alteration for Waverley Inn on Barrington Street

A rendering of the proposed addition to the Waverley Inn. — Screenshot/HRM/Zzap Consulting

Despite opposition from four speakers, Halifax council voted unanimously in favour of allowing a substantial alteration to the Waverley Inn on Barrington Street Tuesday. Zane Woodford reports:

Nassim Ghosn’s company Sterling Hotel Ltd. (or Grafton Developments Inc.) wants to redevelop the old hotel at 1266 Barrington St., tearing down an old addition in the back, restoring the front of the inn, and adding a modern 10-storey addition. The addition would bring the number of rooms at the hotel from 14 to 117.

The building dates back to 1866 and is part of the Old South Suburb Heritage Conservation District. That means any substantial alteration requires approval from council after a recommendation from its Heritage Advisory Committee.

As the Halifax Examiner reported in January, the committee unanimously agreed with the staff recommendation in favour of the alteration.

Four people spoke against the proposed alteration Tuesday. They worried the alterations would alter the character of the neighbourhood, saying the developer is using the heritage restoration to get approval for the big new building behind it.

Coun. Waye Mason said that’s what the Old South Suburb Heritage Conservation District is designed to do: incentivize developers to fix and maintain the heritage of buildings if they want to build bigger.

The proposal will now go to the Design Review Committee for approval.

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5. Canada’s Liberals form agreement with NDP

The federal Liberal government has entered into a new agreement with Canada’s New Democratic Party. Set to last until 2025, the NDP won’t vote to bring down the Liberals’ minority government in future confidence votes, in exchange for cooperation on a number of issues, the Canadian Press reported Tuesday.

According to a release from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, the two parties have agreed to prioritize, among others, the following issues:

  • A new dental plan for low-income Canadians
  • Working toward universal pharmacare
  • Helping health care recover from the pandemic
  • Making life more affordable for Canadians
  • Sticking to tough climate goals and justly transitioning workers out of old energy sectors
  • More paid sick leave
  • Furthering reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples and communities

This deal likely ensures Canadians won’t return to the polls for a federal election until 2025.

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6. Testimony wraps up at Desmond inquiry

Shanna and Lionel Desmond with their infant daughter, Aaliyah.

More than five years have passed since Lionel Desmond murdered his wife, daughter, and mother, before turning the gun on himself in January 2017. Since that tragedy in Upper Big Tracadie, questions have swirled over his motivation, how was able to get a gun after expressing suicidal thoughts to his family, and what supports could have been in place to prevent it all.

On Tuesday, testimony concluded. From Michael MacDonald at the Canadian Press:

John Parkin, [the province’s chief firearms officer] who testified at earlier hearings, faced more questions related to Desmond’s legal purchase of the semi-automatic SKS 7.62 carbine he used to kill his wife, mother and 10-year-old daughter before he turned the gun on himself on Jan. 3, 2017.

The inquiry, which started hearing testimony in January 2020, has heard the former infantryman’s firearms licence was suspended in December 2015 after he was arrested in New Brunswick under the province’s Mental Health Act.

At the time, his wife Shanna was in Nova Scotia, where she told the RCMP she had received texts indicating the former corporal — who had been diagnosed with major depression and severe PTSD in 2011 — was preparing to kill himself in their home in Oromocto, N.B.

Desmond’s firearms licence, however, was reinstated in May 2016 after a New Brunswick doctor signed a medical assessment form that declared Desmond was “non-suicidal and stable.”

MacDonald reports that Warren Zimmer, the provincial court judge presiding over the inquiry, suggested to Parkin that it should be mandatory or encouraged for medical professionals to alert firearms officials when they detect a decline in the mental health of patients with firearms licences. Now that testimony is wrapped up, lawyers are scheduled to present final submissions for the week of April 18.

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Views

Optimism about renewable energy is heartening, but where is Muskrat Falls?

I was heartened by what I read in Jennifer Henderson’s piece on renewable energy this morning. I’d like to focus on one section from her opening blurb. The part that says the province could be generating as much as 60% of its electricity from renewable sources such as water and wind by the end of this year. As Henderson wrote:

Muskrat Falls is supposed to supply 10% of the Nova Scotia grid with Nova Scotia Power also having first dibs on the purchase of another 10%. The Maritime Link has the capacity to deliver up to 30% of what we need. But ongoing repairs to the software that controls the flow from Labrador mean that while performance is much improved, it’s still not predictable for 2022.

In January, the coldest month of the year, Nova Scotia received more than 10%. In February, we received 9.5% of our needs and so far in March, reports from Newfoundland indicate no energy has arrived while work continues on the transmission issues.

Sometimes I almost wonder if Muskrat Falls exists, or if it’s just an idea. (I know the hydro dam exists, but hear me out).

My basic understanding is it’s a hydroelectric project in Labrador that we’re (sort of) linked to. One with excess renewable energy that will help us hit our sustainable energy targets. It cost just a few billion dollars more than expected — Ottawa chipped in $5.2 billion last election season so I’ll trust the budget issues are resolved — and it’s four years behind schedule. But good things come to those who wait, right? 

I’ve heard we might have to wait a little longer still though. This week, a consulting firm put out a report saying we’re at least a year away from seeing Muskrat Falls fully operational, “and perhaps significantly longer.”

OK, but it’s a long time ‘til 2030, when we’re supposed to be generating 80% of our electricity from renewable resources.

I sure hope it’s real if that’s the case. Or is it just an idea. It’s part of the Atlantic Loop, and Jennifer Henderson once described that project as an “idea”:

[The Atlantic Loop is] the idea of a regional energy transmission project that would import renewable energy from Quebec to wean Nova Scotia off coal faster and further de-carbonize New Brunswick’s grid has been known as the “Atlantic Loop” for a couple of years.

Is Muskrat Falls an idea too? I hear we in Nova Scotia have already received some of the renewable power promised from the project. But I’ve also heard we’re paying for a lot of power we’ve never gotten and the delays have cost us even more.

Are we paying for something real?

Really, what is Muskrat Falls?

Can you see it? Is it bright like a fire? Or dark like ash? Does it have a smell, like air, trees, gas, smoke, or smog? Can you feel it like a flood? Is it strong like a hurricane? 

Or empty like the wind?

I try to picture it. Sometimes it just looks like a dot on a map, linked to us by an imaginary circle.

The Atlantic Loop. Graphic: Emera

Maybe it’s a pleasant dream that gets a person through the night; like “renewable biomass”  or “clean natural gas.(Of course, clean natural gas is our plan B for renewable energy in this province, so here’s hoping Muskrat Falls is an actual reality).

And while I’m asking stupid questions, what’s 1.5 degrees? Or two? What’s one foot of water? What’s one metre? Are they just numbers on a page or is there something attached to them? If there is something attached to them, will we see what it is soon?

In 2030 maybe? But what is 2030? Or 2040? Or 2050? 

Let’s go broader: what is time? Just sand draining down a glass? Or is it even less substantial? After all, you can’t hold time in your hand like sand.

Or like coal. Coal’s a lot more tangible than time, that’s for sure. So are its effects. They share one key similarity though, coal, and time:

You can burn both.

I know that for a fact. So does Nova Scotia Power.

What was I asking about again? Oh yes, Muskrat Falls. What is it? Or was I asking, when is it ever going to deliver?

According to Paul Withers at CBC, Nova Scotia Power expects to start receiving energy from the site again some time in the next week or so. I guess it is real after all. To some extent anyway.

Still, the deputy minister of Natural Resources & Renewables is optimistic we’re on track to hit our renewable energy targets. I certainly hope so. We’ve heard we’re on track with other things before.

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Noticed

My hometown is booming!

The population of Wolfville in 2018, the 125th anniversary of the township. Photo: Town of Wolfville/Philip Miner

Although I write for the Halifax Examiner, most of that writing’s done out of Wolfville.

Usually, when I read about the town in the news, it has something to do with university strikes, reckless homecoming parties, or virus-laden wastewater. But this week, we got some positive coverage:

“Wolfville is booming,” reads the headline of Josh Hoffman’s CBC article from Sunday, “and it may just be the beginning.”

Hoffman reports that Wolfville’s population grew by 20% in the last five years — which is only 800 people and doesn’t include the annual influx of students — pushing us to 5,050 strong. The mayor says things are only going up and we’ve got to get ready to for the population to double in the coming years.

Now, it’s exciting to hear Wolfville is becoming a popular spot to settle down. Personally, I’m all for welcoming newcomers. And why not come here? It’s got all the artisanal boutiques, farmers markets, craft breweries, local wineries, and hip shops a person could want. And it’s all available against the backdrop of beautiful Cape Blomidon and the Minas Basin.

But where are people going to go?

Have you ever been to this town in summer? It takes longer to pass through the four-way stop sign at the start of town than it does to take the Bedford Highway off the peninsula at rush hour. And the geography of the place doesn’t allow for a whole lot of expansion to allow for more traffic. There’s one main drag, and any new thoroughfare would have to run through a residential neighbourhood. Assuming you could funnel more traffic into town without turning Main Street into a nightmare, there’s already nowhere to park. Just like the Halifax peninsula, geography is a major constraint.

The town tried changing Main Street into a one way in 2020 to help the flow of traffic and make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Citizens almost mutinied. And things went back to normal after two weeks. And don’t even try to bring up putting in a stop light. For some reason, the town is dead against it.

Housing is a concern, too, just like everywhere else. If you think it’s hard finding a rental in Halifax, you haven’t tried Wolfville. There’s already a sprawl developing around it in places like Kentville, Port Williams, and New Minas — not necessarily a bad thing, but it could be without a bit of planning; there’s no decent transit to get you around out here, for instance. The article mentions two plots of land on either side of town ready for housing developments, which will help. But we also have to prepare for the rising Fundy tide, which could start flooding most of the town core and existing infrastructure before the century is out. The Acadian dykes need to be raised at least half a metre and a whole new dykewall will likely have to be added behind Main Street to prevent regular flooding before the century’s out.

If you put 10,000 people in Wolfville, you won’t have people stacked on top of each other soylent green style, but there’s a lot of infrastructure that has to be added or adapted and not a lot of room to do it.

The article made me think about the provincial government’s announcement when Nova Scotia reached one million people. That day, the province immediately set its eyes on doubling the population to two million. The idea excites me — I’ve lived all my life expecting people to leave Nova Scotia, not flood into it — but there’s so much preparation required to facilitate that many new people.

Just like Wolfville, we could be losing a lot of land and existing infrastructure soon — hell, just look at the Isthmus — and we’re already struggling to provide housing and jobs that offer a living wage for the population we’ve already got.

That’s no reason to say, no more new folk allowed, but there needs to be a little more preparation than looking at “traffic management” and expanding the sewer, as Mayor Wendy Donavon says in the CBC article.

Imagine if 50 years ago in Halifax, they’d considered a ferry to Bedford, a commuter rail, or an emphasis on cycling and transit. We wouldn’t be shutting down Cogswell right now. If we want to grow, a little planning goes a long way. Whether you’re a small town or a small province.

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Government

City

Wednesday

Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am, City Hall) — agenda here

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Regional Centre Community Council (Wednesday, 6pm, HEMDCC Boardroom, Alderney Gate) — agenda here

Thursday

Transportation Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm, City Hall) —agenda here

Province

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — The Decision to Dismantle the Health Authority Board; with representatives from the Department of Health and Wellness, and NSHA

Thursday

Legislature sits (Thursday, 1pm, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

No events

Thursday

On the Development of Small Form Factor Histotripsy Devices for Neurosurgical Applications and Small Animal Experiments (Thursday, 9am) — virtual PhD thesis defence by Jeffrey Kyle Woodacre, School of Biomedical Engineering

The Art of the Interview in Punk Music (Thursday, 12pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — with Gillian McCain and Danny Fields; limited reserved seating, masks encouraged

Sharing Circle: Indigenous Art as Pathway to Forgiveness and Healing (Thursday, 5:30pm) — online webinar with Elder Wilma Simon and Kristen Basque from Eskasoni First Nation; with AI-generated captions

Environmental Health and Epidemiology: Lessons for a more Equitable and Sustainable World (Thursday, 7pm, Potter Auditorium, Rowe Building) — also on Zoom, with Kevin Fong


In the harbour

Halifax
06:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
12:00: Baie St.Paul, bulker, moves from anchorage to Gold Bond
16:00: Trinitas, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba

Cape Breton
07:45: Torm Laura, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea


Footnotes

Now that it’s spring, I think I’ll finally get around to raking the leaves.


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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. WRT the pending land sale in Windsor, this and other recent examples in HRM shows we need solid legislation prohibiting sale of any publicly owned lands for development without a full and open process to determine highest and best use of such property for public benefit. Making rich people richer should not be a publicly supported objective.

  2. Great assessment of the Wolfville situation. I live outside of town on the Ridge which is plenty close enough to the town for me. It’s a pretty and appealing enough place in some ways, with some very good and unique shops and restaurants. BUT! The traffic, the noise, the people everywhere in summer make me avoid the town especially on weekends, and I grit my teeth and fear for my car’s suspension every time I negotiate my way down Highland Avenue, which is an absolute dangerous disgrace. It’s more disintegrating pavement and potholes than a road, especially near Pleasant Street/Skyway Drive. And yes, the slumlords who provide ‘student housing’ could be curbed. Any building up and out has to take in vulnerable tidal marshes and agricultural land, to say nothing of global warming. In the years I’ve lived in the Valley, I don’t believe the dykes and aboiteaux have been breached near Wolfville but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

    1. It’s daunting to realize that those 5,000 projected newcomers will all bring their vehicles. It’s already become very unpleasant to live amidst the Weekend Fairfield Convoy. Last Sunday morning there were more cars on my street than in the Walmart parking lot.

      1. That’s the catch with rural development. Once you develop it, it’s not rural anymore,