John MacIsaac poses for a professional photo. He is a white man in his fifties.
John MacIsaac Credit: Nalcor via CBC

The Houston government has appointed two experienced leaders in the energy field to advise it on how to green the grid and transition the province away from coal.

Coal still generates more than 40% of our electricity. 

Nova Scotia Power is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the legislated deadline to close four coal plants is only seven years away. 

The two-person “Clean Electricity Solutions Task Force” will be chaired by Alison Scott, a lawyer with 30 years experience in government. Scott was appointed Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of energy in 2004 by then Premier John Hamm. She held senior roles in that department for 13 years and later served as a director of the National Energy Board, today known as the Canada Energy Regulator. 

The second member of task force is John MacIsaac. MacIsaac is an engineer. He was the president of Newfoundland & Labrador Hydro in 2015-2016. That utility created Nalcor Energy to manage the construction of the Muskrat Falls megaproject and related transmission infrastructure. 

From 2016-2019, MacIsaac was Nalcor’s executive vice-president of power supply. His responsibilities included all Labrador transmission assets, including the Labrador Island Link, which delivers power from Muskrat Falls to Newfoundland. 

Ongoing technical problems with the software that handles the flow of electricity over the Labrador Island Link has led to years of delay for Nova Scotians receiving the contracted amount of renewable hydro. 

In February 2019, MacIsaac was let go without cause from Nalcor and received $500,000 severance during a corporate shake-up. 

In November 2019, MacIsaac took a job as executive director of corporate services with the Halifax Regional Municipality (circa $250,000 a year) but left after only three months. As Zane Woodford reported in August 2020, “MacIsaac received $54,597.68 in salary and $256,262.40 in other benefits, in this case meaning severance pay. MacIsaac was apparently fired in February after just a few months on the job. Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé hired him in November 2019.”

The Examiner emailed the Premier’s Office and the Department of Natural Resources to question why an executive once responsible for the flawed Labrador Island Link that has delayed environmental cleanup and increased fuel costs in Nova Scotia has now been given a job as a renewable energy advisor.

Here is that question and the response received from Adele Poirier, a senior communications advisor and spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources & Renewables:

Jennifer Henderson: Please explain what makes Mr. MacIsaac a good choice for this assignment considering the problems Nova Scotia has experienced resulting from the Labrador Island Link.

Adele Poirier: Mr. MacIsaac’s experience is in a variety of senior roles in the energy utility sector in Atlantic Canada, as well as working for major companies such as McCain Foods and Michelin.

No mention of Nalcor. 

Both John MacIsaac and Scott will be paid at a rate of $2,000 a day. Their final report and recommendations to government are due “early in 2024” according to a news release. The release provides these additional details about their mandate.

 The task force will:
• examine electricity infrastructure needs for reliability, capacity and storage to meet climate change goals
• examine connections to other essential services such as telecommunications
• review the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board Act in terms of electricity generation, transmission, and rates
• engage subject matter experts, the Mi’kmaq and other interested Nova Scotians

The Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, Tory Rushton, is quoted in the news release saying, “I look forward to the insight and recommendations that the task force will bring.”

The release also includes this quote from task force chair Alison Scott:

Nova Scotia is undergoing its biggest energy transformation in a century. The Clean Electricity Solutions Task Force will thoughtfully and methodically gather as much information as possible to help government make evidence-based decisions regarding modernizing the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nova Scotia.

And the following quote from John MacIsaac:

This task force presents a fresh set of eyes, supported by input from energy and environmental stakeholders, Indigenous people and subject matter experts, to make recommendations to government on solutions for clean electricity.

These appointments suggest the government knows it’s in trouble when it comes to finding a solution to the long-standing problem of finding enough renewable energy sources to transition off coal. Its relationship with Nova Scotia Power has deteriorated. Muskrat Falls has been a disappointment in the short-term and the Atlantic Loop is not a silver bullet, either. 

The task force of two faces some heavy lifting.

With files from Zane Woodford.

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

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  1. Aproximately half a million dollars per year, just for 1 of the 2 people. That must be some amazing task force. Seems like the government is just really good at throwing money at certain people or companies while acting like they can’t afford to pay doctors or nurses enough to keep them or bring them back to Nova Scotia.

  2. She seems alright, but a ‘yes, woman’ obviously. He is perfect to advise the province. All they have to do is listen intently to what he has to say after a few months and do the exact opposite. Then, of course, hand over half a million bucks. Then, of course, pass the bill on to rate payers with the blessing of the UARB.