There are plenty of jobs for Nova Scotia Power workers as the province transitions away from coal, officials told MLAs at a committee meeting on Tuesday.
The provincial standing committee on natural resources and economic development held a live-streamed hybrid meeting, with MLAs in the legislative chamber at Province House and witnesses appearing by videoconference, to discuss “protecting employment in the transition from coal.”
Both the federal and provincial governments want to stop generating electricity using coal by 2030. Nova Scotia is one of four provinces still using coal (along with Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick), and Nova Scotia Power has eight coal-fired generating units in four plants: Lingan, Point Aconi, Point Tupper, and Trenton.
Nova Scotia Power president and CEO Peter Gregg told the committee the utility has reduced its use of coal by 43% since 2005, when it accounted for 73% of the province’s energy. Nova Scotia’s goal is to be producing 80% of electricity using renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030, and Gregg said the utility would hit 60% this year.
On the way to that goal, the Lingan and Trenton plants were slated to close this year, but as hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls has been delayed, so have those closures. As Jennifer Henderson reported the for the Halifax Examiner earlier this month, the Utility and Review Board has told Nova Scotia Power “it will not permit recovery of operating costs of Lingan 2 beyond August 15, 2022” without specific approval.
In an email to the Examiner, Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster offered no timeline, but said one of four coal-fired units at Lingan will close first, followed by one of two units at Trenton.
As they do finally close, the 400 workers at the four coal-fired plants will have options, according to Nova Scotia Power chief operating officer Mark Sidebottom.
“Some employees may want to retire, others may want to work within the organization and in the new structure that exists in the clean generation framework, and others might, in fact, be really interested in being in the community and one of the other job skills,” Sidebottom told the committee.
“Working very closely with the employees over that period is is key, and making sure that while we do this, we understand how the transition will look and feel for them and how they can understand how they can productively finish one part of a career and then transition into another part of a career.”
The utility is planning to have conversations with each employee, Sidebottom said, about what they’re interested in and what they want to do.
Jim Sponagle, business manager with IBEW Local 1928, the union representing Nova Scotia Power employees, said the utility held meetings at the four plants last year, and they’ve set up local committees to work through the transition.
“The world will continue to change and it changes daily and we’ve got to change with it,” Sponagle said.
“We’ll get through it together, and by having collaborative relationships with the employer, we’ll work together and try to minimize the impact of the transition.”
Ava Czapalay, deputy minister of the Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration, said the department will encourage coal workers to get into the trades.
The province launched a recruitment campaign at the end of 2021 hoping to bring skilled tradespeople to the province. Czapalay said it’s expected the province will need 11,000 apprentices in 31 trades in the coming years.
“There are lots of jobs for people to practice skilled trades in Nova Scotia,” Czapalay said.
“We’re really hopeful that some of the workers will consider applying their trade or gaining a new trade as they transition their career. On that piece, we feel there’s a lot of opportunity to work.”
Scott Skinner, CEO of the Clean Foundation, said he thinks Nova Scotia is going to need more than 11,000 tradespeople.
“There’s frankly a huge amount of work that needs to be done on things like energy efficiency, small scale renewables, large-scale renewables … I worry less about there being jobs,” Skinner said.
“We will have more trouble finding people to do the work in some of the areas of our province than we think we will right now.”
NDP MLA Claudia Chender challenged Nova Scotia Power CEO Peter Gregg, who talked about keeping power affordable for Nova Scotians during the transition, to justify the utility’s request for a 10% rate hike over three years while keeping profit at 9%.
“As we progress towards our 2030 shared ambitions for 80% renewables, we will always apply a really, really strict lens of affordability as we make those decisions,” Gregg said. “We haven’t been to the regulator for a general rate application in over a decade, and we never take it lightly when we do have to go forward.”