Gurprasad Gurumurthy is the energy coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. The environmental group was involved in the discussion of Nova Scotia Power’s long-term plan for tackling climate change and “decarbonizing” the production of electricity.
The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is a 35-year planning document that maps out how the Province will met legislated goals to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 and provide a reliable source of electricity to Nova Scotia to replace coal -fired power plants. Click here to read the Integrated Resource Plan.
That’s a tall order. Coal still generates 56% of our electricity and is one of the largest producers of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. The coal-fired plants are mandated to retire by 2040 but recently the top executive with Nova Scotia Power’s parent company raised the possibility of phasing them out 10 years sooner. We asked Gurumurthy for his take on the proposed Plan to de-carbonize the grid.
HE: What are key drivers that would enable an earlier phaseout of coal plants by 2030?
GG: This is both an ambitious and desirable scenario if we are going to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. What will enable this transition to happen faster is the impact of energy efficiency programs. If there are increased investments in building retrofits and the electrification of heating and transportation, we can see that phasing out of coal will be more plausible because we are avoiding costs associated with producing electricity. I’m glad to see the report states explicitly there needs to be a proper analysis, involving Efficiency One, in order to measure how much potential impact energy efficiency will have.
HE: Was there anything that surprised you?
GG: One of Nova Scotia Power’s key findings was that by 2045, the move to heating buildings with electricity from renewable sources and driving electric vehicles would actually work to keep power costs from rising. [The finding from NS Power says “the directional analysis work has shown that increased electricity sales due to electrification can reduce upward pressures on rates while facilitating carbon reductions.”]
Essentially by electrifying your heating system you are moving to higher efficiency which helps bring your bills down. When it comes to transportation, you are saving 60% on GHG emissions and avoiding fuel usage, so there are savings with that. All of this has a combined impact on power rates.
Another factor to consider is that higher system costs associated with a move to large-scale electrification are also being distributed over a larger number of people and businesses. Economies of scale dictate that should result in a lower average cost. But this is the finding from a very preliminary study by Nova Scotia Power and a lot of stakeholders, including the Ecology Action Centre, want further study in the near future so we can confirm that higher electrification will lead to lower rate impacts.
HE: The long-term plan says the lowest-cost, in-house replacement for coal-fired plants are combustion turbines fuelled by natural gas. The report talks about the potential to convert coal plants at Trenton and Point Tupper to natural gas. What are your thoughts on replacing coal-fired generation with natural gas?
GG: My thoughts are not very positive on following the natural gas route because gas prices are something we know will vary over the decades. Secondly, natural gas is obviously not emissions clean. In the long run, it won’t be in the energy mix of other countries in the world; they are all planning to phase it out and move towards green hydrogen or renewables. I would definitely hope natural gas is a temporary measure and a transition fuel and that we are not entirely reliant on natural gas going forward.
For now, natural gas has been modelled into the scenarios as low cost but Nova Scotia Power states it is open to technology breakthroughs over the coming decades and at that time, whatever is the least cost/low carbon technology they will go for it.
HE: In order to replace the steady electricity produced by coal plants, this report says not only will we need hydro imports from Muskrat Falls but also imports of renewable energy from Quebec. The reports says an upgrade of the existing transmission line between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as well as the construction of a new power line to interconnect the Atlantic region with Quebec and possibly New England will be required to move off coal before 2040. Do you agree?
GG: As mentioned in Ottawa’s Speech from the Throne, the Atlantic Loop is still an idea but it is a strong idea that needs to be discussed. What it talks about is strengthening this regional, interconnected transmission system and it is very essential for transitioning away from coal in this decade. It’s very, very important.
The long-term Integrated Resource Plan has been filed and was posted Monday on the website of the Utility and Review Board. The regulator will ultimately decide whether to approve or amend it.