Nova Scotia’s energy efficiency programs got high marks in the fourth annual scorecard released by Efficiency Canada this week.

Efficiency Canada is a research and advocacy group housed at Carleton University’s Sustainable Energy Research Centre. Nova Scotia moved up to second from third, five points behind British Columbia and two points ahead of Quebec.

Nova Scotia improved its ranking mostly due to increased spending on a slate of programs run by Efficiency One, which subsidizes and promotes the use of insulation, heat pumps, and solar panels to reduce the demand for electricity and energy.

“Nova Scotia leads the country in electricity savings, and also makes sure its programs are reaching low-income and Indigenous populations who can benefit from them the most,” said Brendan Haley, Efficiency Canada’s director of policy research. 

Efficiency Canada used a points system to evaluate energy efficiency policy and outcomes between January 2021 and June 2022. Provinces receive points for their energy efficiency programs — what used to be called conservation programs — which reduce demand. Provinces also receive points for reducing fuel consumed by vehicles that emit harmful carbon emissions while transporting goods and people. And points are awarded to provinces that are embracing new building codes to drive down the amount of energy consumed by heating and cooling homes and businesses. 

A heat pump is seen on a house in Dartmouth on Thursday. Credit: Zane Woodford

Efficiency Canada notes that Nova Scotia’s 2023–2025 demand-side management plan will triple investments in retrofits for low-income households, Mi’kmaq, and renters. Efficiency One’s annual budget will increase from $40 million to $57 million a year. The utility estimates that amount could mean a 2% increase in power rates, which it says will be offset by an average 5% saving on the power bill.

Over the past decade, Efficiency One estimates its programs have cut GHG emissions 24% and saved consumers $1 billion on energy that was not sold.

Because Nova Scotians pay the highest price for electricity in the country, Haley said he believes this province has strong motivation to reduce energy sales even further, from the current 1% a year to as much as 2%, as some American states have managed to do. 

Improvements required to hit green targets  

While Nova Scotia was a trailblazer in establishing the country’s first energy-efficiency utility, Efficiency One, it earned only half as many points as British Columbia and Quebec for reducing energy consumption in the transportation and building sectors. About 44% of Nova Scotia’s GHG emissions come from these two areas. Nova Scotia has been slower to establish a network of fast-charging electric vehicle (EV) stations and offers generous rebates to drivers eager to purchase electric vehicles. A stated goal in the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act is for EVs to account for 30% of vehicle sales by 2030.

An electric car charging. Credit: Jennifer Henderson

Haley says because of Nova Scotia’s reliance on furnace oil and coal-fired electricity for heating and cooling buildings, buildings in this province consume more energy and produce more GHG emissions than anywhere else in Canada. The scorecard indicates this is a key area where Nova Scotia can improve.  

“Nova Scotia is clearly an energy-efficiency programs leader,” Haley said. “I think what Nova Scotia needs to do next is align that leadership with its climate change goals in order to achieve net-zero emissions. In the scorecard we talked about how the province could do that quite easily with building codes. Another way to do that is to align Nova Scotia Power’s incentives with higher energy savings and the greening of the grid.” 

Efficiency Canada says Nova Scotia’s current policies won’t be enough to deliver promises to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. To start, the advocacy group said the province should commit to adopting the top tier of the new federal building energy codes by 2030 or earlier. 

“If the province is serious about hitting net-zero emissions, an obvious place to start is to align all new buildings with that goal,” Haley said. 

The new federal building codes were developed by the National Research Council in 2020 but were just released this year. They include five tiers or levels with the lowest tier representing what we have today. The top tier would require all new commercial and residential buildings to be “net-zero energy-ready.” The short form of that definition means a building can supply its own needs using renewable sources of energy.  

The scorecard notes that New Brunswick and PEI have committed to adopt building codes based on this top-tier standard by 2030, making this one of the few categories where Nova Scotia lags behind its neighbours. Nova Scotia has yet to endorse one of the tiers.

The scorecard also challenges this province to consider bringing in performance-based standards “linking Nova Scotia Power revenues (provided by ratepayers) to achieving an affordable and equitable net- zero emissions future that would follow leading energy-efficiency jurisdictions in the U.S.”

A similar proposal by NDP leader Claudia Chender failed to pass in the legislature last spring.

Federal help could speed transition to green 

As part of its annual scorecard, Efficiency Canada suggests many provinces could use help from the federal government to broaden the reach of who benefits from retrofit programs. Some provincial programs require a strict cost-benefit analysis or apply only to certain types of fuels used for heating. 

“The federal government can help fill these gaps by earmarking at least $2 billion towards low-income energy efficiency in Canada that is accessible to all low-income homeowners and renters, including the millions who cannot take on the additional debt burdens required by active retrofit programs and who don’t live in subsidized housing — the current focus of federal low-income energy efficiency efforts,” Efficiency Canada said. 

The advocacy group also urges the federal government to work on defining performance standards for net-zero buildings.

To reach net-zero emissions, we need large buildings to not only benchmark and disclose energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission performance, but we also need to make a minimum level of performance mandatory, so these buildings provide the right services, such as adequate cooling, to occupants and tenants in a net-zero emissions future.” 

Efficiency Canada’s director of policy research offers some badly needed hope to a province struggling with the high cost of weaning itself off fossil fuels.  

“There’s always room for improvement, but Nova Scotia’s well positioned to meet its goals and become a true energy efficiency powerhouse,” Haley said.

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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