1. Province to step in to stop net-metering charges
This morning, a few written pieces from members of government will be heartening to any Nova Scotian hoping to install solar power in their home and anyone in the solar power business.
First, Premier Tim Houston wrote a letter to Peter Gurnham, chair of the UARB, to “alert” the board of the legislative and regulatory framework the province plans to implement in order to deny the requested “system access charge” for solar users. From the letter:
At a minimum, the steps we intend to take will maintain the existing Enhanced Net Metering program (as it was on January 26th, 2022). However, since Nova Scotia Power has shown that it is out of step with Nova Scotians and their environmental ambitions, we are also exploring ways to better align the goals of the program with the goals of our government.
In other words, we agree that it is time for changes to the Enhanced Net Metering program but the changes we seek will support the greening of the grid, not discourage it.
The premier writes that the “necessary legislative and regulatory framework changes” will be brought into effect well before Nova Scotia Power’s application proceeding before UARB, but he wanted the board to be aware of the province’s plans well in advance. He wrote that he also wanted to reassure Nova Scotia’s solar industry, and private citizens who have invested or are looking to invest in solar, that the province wants to see this sector and source of energy grow and remain incentivized. Again, from the letter:
There should be no confusion. Our imminent changes will at a minimum maintain the status quo but, where possible, even further support those investing in the benefits of solar, including new regulations and support for community and expanded commercial programs.
The Department of Environment and Climate Change also put out a news release that said the government is committed to solar power. The release is an op-ed from Minister Timothy Halman:
Many Nova Scotians have made their feelings known about Nova Scotia Power’s application to increase electricity rates by 10 per cent and increase the cost for solar power.
Solar customers and installers are justifiably concerned for the survival of the province’s solar industry.
I want to assure Nova Scotians and the solar industry that this government’s resolve in achieving our greenhouse gas emission targets – which includes the use of solar power to reduce emissions – is unwavering.”
The minister goes on to write he is committed to achieving the targets in the new Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act by the end of the decade, as legislated. As such, he says the government will bring forward regulations to stop the proposed “net-metering charge,” or “system access charge,” as Nova Scotia Power puts it.
Nova Scotia has set one of the most ambitious targets in the country for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this, we need to expand access to renewable energy – and that includes solar.
“We want Nova Scotians to continue to adopt solar. That is why we invest in programs to encourage Nova Scotians to switch to solar, including $8 million we recently announced for solar retrofits. The industry creates jobs and provides economic benefits. A system access charge for net-metered installations, the majority of which are solar, is not in line with that goal.
The minister says the government will join other intervenors at the UARB hearing on NS Power’s request to ensure any changes are consistent with the province’s environmental goals and are “in the best interest of Nova Scotians.”
Let’s look back at this whole story.
On Thursday, Jennifer Henderson reported Nova Scotia Power had submitted a general rate application to the Utility and Review Board (UARB) asking for a 10% increase in residential power bills over the next three years. But that wasn’t all. Henderson writes:
Nova Scotia Power is proposing to add an $8 per kW per month* “system access charge” for all new customers who want to generate their own electricity and sell the extra back to Nova Scotia Power through a process known as “net-metering.” Customers signed up before February 1 of this year will be exempt from having to pay the proposed fee.
This rubbed more than a few Nova Scotians the wrong way.
“Some of the most vocal opposition,” Henderson reported in a follow-up article Monday, “is coming from people who have installed home solar systems to generate some of their own electricity or who are considering doing so.”
As the Examiner published in Henderson’s article Monday, Peter Ritchie, a solar power user in Antigonish County, wrote a letter to the Consumer Advocate railing against the proposed “system access charge.” In the letter, he was baffled by the reasoning put forward by Gregg and N.S. Power.
Apparently, NSPI [Nova Scotia Power, Inc.] is making the claim that “ordinary” rate payers are subsidizing the costs associated with allowing net-metering customers to feed excess solar energy, should they produce any, back onto the existing grid infrastructure. I’ve even seen a comment from NSPI President, Peter Gregg, in which he suggests that this burden is particularly punitive to ‘…low income customers.’ While this sort of rhetoric may seem heartwarming on its face, it should be seen for the shameless pandering that it is.
Ritchie goes on to note that excess solar power isn’t actually “sold” back to Nova Scotia Power. It’s accrued as credits, which roll forward to pay for electricity in the new year, assuming they aren’t already offset during days when solar panels don’t produce enough power to satisfy a homeowner’s demand, in which case electricity from the grid is needed and can be paid for with these credits.
What’s more, Ritchie wrote, “the sizing of a customer’s grid-tied solar installation is strictly controlled by the utility, such that a customer, under normal circumstances, cannot produce more electricity than they normally would consume from the utility in the run of a year.”
This is coming from a man whose already installed solar panels on his home, meaning he’d be grandfathered in and wouldn’t have to pay the system access charge for 25 years.
So citizens were upset. Solar professionals were upset. Add politicians to that list.
On Friday, Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, issued a statement saying he was disappointed by Nova Scotia Power’s proposal and his office wanted to protect ratepayers. From that statement:
As a government, we want Nova Scotians to continue to adopt solar. That is why we have continued to invest in programs that encourage Nova Scotians to do that. It has led to jobs and economic benefits for Nova Scotians and their communities. We believe Nova Scotia Power’s proposal related to a system access charge for net-metering customers who convert to solar energy is not in line with that goal.
That brings us to Tuesday, when the proposed “system access charge” would have come into effect for ratepayers who install solar panels on their houses or buildings after the date. Not so fast though.
On that day — yesterday, for those of you keeping score at home — Nova Scotia Power announced it would delaying the start of the “system access charge” on solar panel users by one year. The new charge, if approved by UARB, will now come into effect for anyone installing solar panels on their home or building after February 1, 2023.
Tim Bousquet wrote an update yesterday with the latest developments on this story, including CEO Peter Gregg’s full issued statement regarding the delayed charge and more of Minister Rushton’s letter decrying the application and how it thwarts the province’s efforts to combat climate change.
Also writing on the topic Tuesday, Zane Woodford reported on another politician upset about Nova Scotia Power’s proposed solar charge.
Coun. Sam Austin told the Examiner he wants HRM to voice its opposition to the proposed charge. “We want a serious upscaling of solar over the next couple years as part of HalifACT and that will be impossible if the economics of it get destroyed by Nova Scotia Power,” he said in an interview.
If this summary interested you at all, I urge you to check out the full articles and get as informed on this issue as you can. If you’re interested in installing solar — or you pay for electricity at all — this is a story you’re going to want to stay on top of.
2. Delivery of power from Muskrat Falls delayed again
And who could mention power and delays without bringing up Muskrat Falls?
Jennifer Henderson writes that the transmission of the bulk of hydro power from the Muskrat Falls in Labrador to Nova Scotia will be pushed back at least another two months.
That’s from a January 14 report filed with the Public Utilities Board in Newfoundland. It reveals ongoing delays associated with the transmission portion of the hydroelectric project that Nova Scotia Power is relying on to generate up to 20% of electricity from renewable sources. There has been some power delivered to Nova Scotia since the summer, but software problems haven’t allowed it to be steady, and the full delivery of power from the project is now more than four years behind schedule.
As the Examiner reported in December, those delays have cost Nova Scotian ratepayers more than $200 million as the promised power has had to be replaced with other sources of energy.
From Henderson’s article:
Nova Scotia Power is asking the Utility and Review Board (UARB) to approve charging ratepayers $169 million in 2022 to cover the cost of installing the Maritime Link cable between Newfoundland and Cape Breton. At a public hearing this December, ratepayers learned Nova Scotia Power had received only 19% of the energy that should have arrived between August and the end of November.
In its final submission to the UARB on January 7, 2022, Nova Scotia Power claimed that from mid-December until the end of the first week in January, the company had received between 70-100 percent of the contracted NS Block.
The UARB decision is pending. Several commissioners expressed concern that the original Muskrat Falls deal sanctioned by the UARB in 2013 has not been upheld and there is still no firm date when full power will arrive.
The $169-million question is whether the UARB will hold ratepayers or Nova Scotia Power shareholders responsible now that the original deal is arguably in default.
3. Advocates: Aquaculture Review Board’s first fish farm decision could set problematic precedent
On Friday last week, three days after it was originally scheduled to decide, the newly-formed Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board released its first ever decision on a fish farm hearing. In that decision, the Board ruled to approve the boundary expansion of a lease for a fish farm at Rattling Beach in the Annapolis Basin, near Digby, meaning the site was now officially larger. It’s a bit more complicated than that though.
Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd., a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture, has been operating the site since it acquired the lease in 2004. In all that time, the open-net pen farm has never operated within the confines of the boundary defined by its lease. The province was aware of this since at least 2008, but locals only really became aware in 2014 when a man living nearby became suspicious of how large the farm was and measured it using a GPS and his car’s odometer.
In 2016, Kelly Cove Salmon (KCS) applied to have the boundaries of its lease expanded to include all existing operations and equipment at Rattling Beach. Essentially, they were asking to have the border they’d been operating within since 2004 retroactively approved over a decade later.
In November 2021, five years later, the hearing was finally held.
Had the board decided to deny the application to expand the lease boundary to conform to existing operations, the fish farm would’ve had to reduce its site from 20 cages to three or four, based on the original parameters of the lease. But the board ruled that, since the farm was already operating beyond those parameters, they weren’t applying for a much of a change and it was approved.
A local man, Gregory Hemming, who applied for intervenor status at the hearing, was worried approving the expansion would let KCS off the hook after years of flouting its lease, but the Review Board disagreed. From the decision:
In its submissions, the intervenor argues that KCS has been in “serious violation” of its licence for 17 years; in the result the application should be refused. Approval, he argues, leaves KCS unaccountable. With respect, that is very much an overstatement. In fact, the sole “violation” has been openly and transparently operating outside of the site boundaries (primarily by mooring location), without any apparent impact on other users.
No harm, no foul.
The Healthy Bays Network disagrees. They held a virtual news conference yesterday to voice their concerns about the decision. The coalition of community groups, who were denied intervenor status for the hearing in November, is opposed to open-net pen aquaculture, which they say can harm local wildlife and coastal communities. (The open net pen style of fish farm is being phased out on the west coast right now due to concerns over impacts on wild salmon).
Leslie and I looked at some of the reaction from that conference, as well as the details of Aquaculture Review Board decision, how it could impact endangered wild Atlantic salmon, and what precedent this first decision could set for future fish farm expansions.
4. COVID update
Here’s the news you need to know from Tim Bousquet’s COVID update from Tuesday.
Another person in Nova Scotia has died from COVID-19. The man was in his 80s and is the 147th Nova Scotian to die from the virus. He lived in Nova Scotia Health’s Central Zone.
Yesterday, the province reported 95 people are in hospital with COVID — 15 of whom are in ICU — after being admitted due to exhibiting symptoms. The age range is 1 to 97, and the average age is 68.
The province announced 274 new cases Tuesday. Here’s the new case break down by Nova Scotia Health zone:
- 103 Central
- 76 Eastern
- 50 Northern
- 45 Western
A new COVID outbreak has been identified at Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville — fewer than five patients have tested positive — and outbreaks at Digby General and the Halifax Infirmary both have new cases — two in Digby, one in Halifax.
5. Acadia University faculty on strike; classes cancelled
Classes were cancelled at Acadia University Tuesday and, for once, it had nothing to do with COVID.
Faculty went on strike at midnight Monday after university administration and faculty were unable to reach a new collective agreement.
In a news release Tuesday, the university said although classes are cancelled until further notice, campus operations will continue, and “the University will take every reasonable measure to support students, including providing core services and resources.”
From the release:
The University began negotiating the 16th Collective Agreement with its 350-person Faculty Association in July 2021 and requested the help of a provincial conciliator in November. The conciliator declared an impasse and a two-week cooling-off period on January 14. Both sides resumed talks on January 26 and 27. As late as yesterday, communications were ongoing through the conciliator.
The Canadian Press reported yesterday that the Faculty Association “wants the university to increase the number of tenured faculty, offer higher wages and better working conditions for part-time faculty, and a commitment to increasing the diversity of faculty through dedicated positions for Indigenous people.”
CP also reports the union wants a contract clause ensuring faculty salaries don’t fall below cost of living increases.
Get outdoors and exercise regularly. It’s pretty common, if over-simplified, advice for taking care of your mental health and dealing with anxiety.
It’s not a cure-all, but there really is a lot of truth in it.
Doctors in British Columbia seem to agree. They’re partnering with PaRx, Canada’s national nature prescription program, and Parks Canada to offer a new style of healthcare.
According to an article at Global BC — written by Elizabeth McSheffrey, the talented reporter Nova Scotians might recognize from her time at Global’s Halifax station — doctors in British Columbia can now prescribe national park passes “to patients in need of the physical or mental health benefits offered by time spent in nature.” From the article:
An annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass costs about $72 per adult.
Only those physicians registered with PaRx can prescribe them, and while “anyone with any health condition” qualifies for a nature prescription, Lem said physicians are encouraged to target the park passes.
“There’s this huge body of research showing that nature time can improve all kinds of different physical and mental health conditions, from diabetes and heart disease to ADHD and depression,” she explained.
It could be seen as a bit of a PR stunt, but I think it’s a great idea. It’s a really exciting approach to mental health that takes advantage of our unique geography.
I’m no doctor. But I am a strong believer in the healing power of exercise in nature. Fresh air won’t solve any serious mental illness, as far as I know, but it works wonders for preventing and dealing with stress, anxiety, and lethargy. There’s something about hiking a mountain or paddling a pristine lake in solitude that puts things in perspective. You get less hung up on trivial nonsense, and have more energy to tackle the things that matter.
In my two winters living in Banff, I never slept better at night or felt more awake during the day. My mind never felt so uncluttered and calm. Take my anecdotal evidence as you will.
Living in a ski town, you didn’t need to be a psychiatrist to see the difference between the ski bums who partied all night and hibernated all day, and those who got out and explored Canada’s most beautiful backyard.
The most exciting part of the story: McSheffrey writes it’s coming to the rest of us Canadians next year.
I really believe it could do a lot of Canadians a great deal of good.
Don’t believe me? Take two hikes through Keji and call me in the morning.
Brett Ruskin, or Shubie Sam, or Lucy Lobster, or I don’t know, somebody or something is reporting six more weeks of winter.
In honour of the day, let me share part of a wonderfully written review of the 1993 Bill Murray comedy I stumbled upon during my undergrad, no doubt while trying to do anything other than write a paper. I think it perfectly captures what makes Groundhog Day, which has no business being anything other than a B-level cornball dipped in saccharine, one of the great comedies of the 20th century. From Hal Hinson at the Washington Post, Feb. 12, 1993:
After a few days of [seeing the main character live the same day over again], most films would run out of invention and grow tiresome. But Ramis, who wrote the script with Danny Rubin, comes up with so many inspired variations on the day’s events, and runs Murray through so many different reactions to his ordeal, that we never grow bored.
How could we, with Murray ricocheting from elation to suicidal despair to depressed resignation? Murray is a breed unto himself, a sort of gonzo minimalist. And he’s never been funnier as a comedian or more in control as an actor than he is here. It’s easily his best movie.
With a script as beautifully complex as this one, [director Harold] Ramis and his cast have half of their work done for them. There is a moral to the tale as well, and it even strikes an uplifting note. But, for once, the audience isn’t forced to surrender its intelligence (or its healthy cynicism) to embrace the film’s sunny resolution. When Phil has his change of heart, he doesn’t suddenly become a stranger. He’s the same man, the same jerk, but a far wiser, more likable jerk.
With another star, the movie’s message might have been insufferably icky. But Murray’s double-jointed ironic charm is our insurance against dishonest optimism. If this caterpillar becomes a butterfly, it’s a butterfly with a lot of worm left in him.
I’ve seen it so many times, but just reading this review makes me want to check it out again today. I suppose it’s apt that it’s so rewatchable.
Happy Groundhog Day, Nova Scotia.
Budget Committee (Wednesday, 9:30am) — virtual meeting
North West Planning Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 7pm) — virtual meeting
Board of Police Commissioners (Thursday, 11am) — virtual meeting
Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee (Thursday, 1pm) — virtual meeting
Women’s Advisory Committee (Thursday, 4pm) — virtual meeting
Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am) — video conference; Nova Scotia Cap-and-Trade Program, with Lora MacEachern, Department of Environment and Climate Change
Tools and Techniques to Support Linguistic Diversity (Wednesday, 11am) — online, interactive two-hour workshop; $50
Massive intein content in three Anaeramoeba genomes reveals new aspects of intein mobility in eukaryotes (Wednesday, 4pm) — Lucie Gallot Lavallee from Dalhousie University will talk
Maintenance of respiratory health by the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR): can one protein really do it all? (Thursday, 11am) — Carolyn Baglole from McGill University will talk
In the harbour
00:15: CSL Tacoma, bulker, arrives at Point Tupper coal pier from Baltimore
11:00: Seasprite, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea
12:00: Abliani, oil tanker, arrives at Point Tupper from Es Sider, Libya
12:30: CSL Tacoma sails for sea
- In September I shared a few of my favourite listings from Halifax Buy and Sell. This week, I saw another item worth sharing from that page: if you’re in the market for a doll that may or may not kill you in your sleep, but don’t wanna break the bank, click here!
- I could’ve made some stupid Groundhog Day/pandemic joke about being stuck in time for two years, but it would’ve been as depressing as it would’ve been trite.
- I did a lot of writing on the road this weekend, mostly stuffed in the back of a fully-packed hatchback. Would not recommend.
- If you need me, I’ll be napping.