Nova Scotians will pay more for electricity, gasoline, and home-heating  over the next four years as part of the province’s plan to reduce its carbon footprint and avoid a carbon tax Ottawa announced it will impose on four other provinces beginning this January. But Premier Stephen McNeil insists Nova Scotia consumers will pay much less under a homegrown cap-and-trade program which Ottawa has approved in lieu of collecting a carbon tax.

“Today you see the federal government has accepted a plan which would see a one-cent-a-litre increase on gasoline in Nova Scotia compared to what would be an 11-cents-a-litre rise in neighbouring provinces which will get the federal backstop [carbon tax],” boasted McNeil at a news conference yesterday. “We have a position put forward that will see a one per cent increase in electricity rates; if the federal backstop was here that would be an eight per cent increase [over four years].”

The province expects to collect $25 to $30 million annually in revenue from 20 companies that produce more than 50,000 tonnes a year of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Those companies include Nova Scotia Power, Northern Pulp, Irving Oil, Heritage Gas, and Lafarge Canada.

Jason Hollett, the executive director of climate change with the provincial Department of Environment, says the new revenue will be held in a Green Fund. Discussions are continuing about whether to use the money to help businesses become more energy efficient and/or help low-income people who will be most affected by higher prices for fossil fuels.

Hollett says at this stage it’s impossible to tell how the federal plan to send rebate cheques directly to people in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan stacks up against the Nova Scotia plan. The federal plan prices carbon at between $20 and $50 a tonne, while Nova Scotia is pegging the price at $25/tonne.

To keep costs low for both consumers and polluters, the Nova Scotia government will distribute free allowances. Nova Scotia Power will pay just 10 per cent of the total cost of reducing its emissions while companies that distribute fuel (such as Irving Oil and Heritage Gas) will pay only 20 per cent of their costs. Figures produced by the provincial Department of Environment show that under cap-and-trade the price of home heating oil is projected to bump up 1.4 cents a litre over four years compared to a leap of 13.6 cents a litre under the federal carbon tax.

Hollett noted that in Quebec — the other Canadian province which implemented cap-and-trade year several years ago — companies in the fuel distribution business pay 100 per cent of their emission costs. The government’s break for fuel distributors here explains why it is predicting a more modest price increase for Nova Scotia consumers.

Moreover, the McNeil government is allowing multinational companies such as Northern Pulp and Lafarge Canada to pay zero per cent of their  cost of reducing emissions for fear the companies will pack up and relocate if their carbon bill becomes higher than in other countries where they also do business. (Interestingly, Northern Pulp’s Asian parent company recently purchased three new plants in British Columbia, which has had a carbon tax for many years.)

The total amount of carbon the province has chosen to cut over the next four years to comply with the federal reductions is 650,000 tonnes.  That’s on top of 1.4 million tonnes the province is already cutting as a result of provincial legislation that established hard caps on carbon emissions from Nova Scotia Power and renewable energy targets out to 2030 and 2040. The 650,000-tonne cap is a policy decision of the McNeil government that represents “a 30-40 per cent reduction” in carbon emissions below 1990, says Jason Hollett, what he calls “one of the most ambitious targets in the country.”

The cap looks more impressive when the province uses the federal benchmark of 2005 instead of 1990 as its starting point. Using 2005 as the benchmark, our carbon emissions will drop 45 to 50 per cent  by 2030.  Then again, after tar sands Alberta, Nova Scotia’s dependence on coal makes our province the highest per capita emitter of carbon in the country.

Meghan McMorris is the community energy coordinator with the Ecology Action Center. McMorris says that while 650,000 tonnes is “a good start” and the province deserves credit for developing its own plan to reflect the Nova Scotian context of a few big industries and an aging demographic, the cap doesn’t go nearly far enough to “stay within a 1.5 degree rise in global warming.”

“We believe that in line with the Paris agreement and the International Panel on Climate Change’s most recent warning, the target should be a 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels,” said McMorris. “Climate change affects everybody and we need to move faster.”

Nova Scotia Power is responsible for over 40 per cent of carbon emissions and is counting on imports from Muskrat Falls by 2020 to lower that. It can also burn natural gas instead of coal. The winding down of offshore natural gas production at the end of this year eliminates another potential large emitter.

What happens to cap-and-trade if Nova Scotia becomes home to a massive liquefied natural gas plant proposed for Goldboro or the Strait of Canso is something neither the premier nor Jason Hollett wanted to talk much about yesterday, probably because the “free” allowances the government is handing other polluters wouldn’t stretch very far with the addition of a carbon-emitting gorilla of an LNG plant.

McNeil heads to Calgary today to meet with executives at Pieridae Energy, which is expected to make its investment decision about the proposed LNG plant by the end of this year. The shelf life of Nova Scotia’s cap-and-trade deal is four years. It will expire before any LNG plant would be in operation, a fact Hollett says will allow whatever government is elected the “flexibility” to revise the scheme or come up with a whole new model if a large fossil fuel industry happens to set up shop in a job-starved part of the province eager to welcome a major employer.

Jennifer Henderson

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

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  1. Hooray for a high carbon tax and anything else we can do cut our emissions. Only the deluded or bald faced liars can claim that economic growth should trump the climate. The most recent IPCC Report is very clear that we have to cut emissions now and for the next decade if we are to have a small chance of keeping to a warming below 1.5 degrees. If we fail, then there will be no growing economy and Canada will have significantly smaller borders . We know that the bald faced liar in the White House will do nothing to stop climate change. But that is no excuse for Canada ( and Nova Scotia) to take major action.

  2. Thank you for covering this topic. I’m a firm believer in a high carbon tax but like the cheese, feel I’m pretty much alone on that stand.
    As an aside, I’d like to see all gas pumps labeled as to the origins of the fuel. Every other product I buy lists where it’s from. The pumps already have those tax % stickers in order to motivate people to complain about gas tax. They should be required to state 80% Saudi Arabia 20% Venezuela or whatever. I’m sure it would make people think a bit more about that 100$ tank of gas and who’s pockets it’s going to. I don’t mind if they’d like to add ‘refined in St John’, the way they do with clothing designed here. I think it might help if the public were aware of just how much they were spending and where. Perhaps they might be inclined to choose a hybrid or electric next time. I think it would be a cheap and easy awareness campaign for those that can’t contemplate changing for environmental reasons.

    1. Refined product imports often come from Europe and Texas.
      Gas is $2.19 a litre in Britain : https://www.expatistan.com/price/gas/london/CAD
      Here is a good cost of living comparison, Halifax is 139 and a bargain when Toronto is 174
      https://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/index

      Signs on gas pumps are useless because people only change their habits when the wallet is thinner.
      Getting serious about climate change means reducing consumption and living more like post war Britain when rationing was still in force and furniture and food was rationed. Rationing ended July 4 1954

      ” Food rationing began on 8 January 1940, four months after the outbreak of war. Limits were imposed on the sale of bacon, butter and sugar.
      Then on 11 March 1940 all meat was rationed. Clothes coupons were introduced and a black market soon developed while queueing outside shops and bartering for extra food became a way of life.

      There were allowances made for pregnant women who used special green ration books to get extra food rations, and breastfeeding mothers had extra milk.

      Restrictions were gradually lifted three years after war had ended, starting with flour on 25 July 1948, followed by clothes on 15 March 1949.

      On 19 May 1950 rationing ended for canned and dried fruit, chocolate biscuits, treacle, syrup, jellies and mincemeat.
      Petrol rationing, imposed in 1939, ended in May 1950 followed by soap in September 1950.
      Three years later sales of sugar were off ration and last May butter rationing ended. “

      1. With the brutal slaying of the Saudi journalist it might be good for maritimers to know that while refined in Europe or Texas, they’re filling up their F150 with Saudi gasoline. I realize most people don’t care and only ever want what’s cheapest, child labour, the environment, pesticides etc. or not. It’s tough when we’ll never have a government that thinks beyond a 4 year mandate. I don’t know what the right answer is but Wynn tried to make some moves towards green alternatives and was replaced with a Ford. Those were only very minor initiatives but proved majorly unpopular. We’ll never have anyone ration electricity and meat, triple the price of gas and limit commuting, travel and industry. As you mention, a world war could do it but this is too slow for the majority to prioritize or act. The conservatives have done a great job stigmatizing a Carbon tax but it’s really the best solution.

  3. How much of our “renewables” are biomass? Quite the misnomer as cutting down trees and burning then for fuel is hardly renewable and certainly not carbon neutral.

  4. Come on, this is not a “complicated carbon plan”, this is a plan created by industry, for industry. This government represents its corporate puppet masters, not the people of this province and certainly not the environment. As the old Fram filter ad intoned, ” You can pay now, or pay later”. Well folks, we are all going to pay, later…and dearly. We are all committing a crime against future generations; this is depraved.