An electric car at a charging station. The car is white with logos that say Zevvy and I'm electric
An electric car charging. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Nova Scotians who want to take advantage of a provincial rebate to purchase an electric vehicle or a subsidized home energy audit if they heat their homes with oil have until the end of 2023 to get it done. The same goes for homeowners looking for financial assistance through the provincial government to install solar panels. These are just three examples of a dozen programs financed by the Green Fund.

Over the past four years, the Green Fund raised about $100 million for energy efficiency programs through the buying and selling of carbon credits among companies required to offset their greenhouse gas emissions that exceeded a “cap” or limit set by the Department of the Environment and Climate Change.

“It’s business as usual for 2023,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman told reporters during a question period following Wednesday’s meeting of the premier and cabinet ministers. “Continue to apply. We need to continue to invest heavily in those programs. The climate emergency requires us to do that.”

Premier Tim Houston announced last Friday Nova Scotia would be discontinuing the four-year experiment known as cap-and-trade, which was introduced by the McNeil government. The Trudeau government had accepted it as an alternative to Nova Scotians paying the federal carbon tax because it reduced carbon emissions by a similar amount.

About two dozen companies participated, and while the pool’s small size meant it would have limitations as the price of carbon continues to rise until 2030, cap-and-trade has worked for Nova Scotia consumers. Prices at the gasoline pumps have risen only 1.5 cents compared to 11 cents a litre in other provinces that have a carbon tax. Residents in those provinces also receive rebate cheques from Ottawa to help offset some or all of the cost.

A bald man in a suit sits at a desk. Behind him are a row of Nova Scotia flags
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Tim Halman. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

The Houston government is opposed to introducing a federal tax, arguing Nova Scotians are already paying to reduce carbon through rising power rates to transition from coal to more renewable sources of energy. Houston said if the federal government does not accept the alternative plan his government submitted Friday, Nova Scotians will see gasoline prices jump 14.4 cents a litre next January and furnace oil costs will increase as well.

The Nova Scotia “plan” or argument for why residents here should be exempt from paying the carbon tax is that we have strong legislated targets — generating 40% of our electricity from renewables by 2022 and 80% from renewables by 2030 — that will reduce emissions further than the federal carbon tax. That’s because 40% of Nova Scotia’s emissions come from electricity generation and the federal tax applies primarily to the cost to heat buildings and fuel vehicles that transport people and goods from one place to another. That accounts for a lesser portion of GHG emissions here but one that inevitably must be tackled.

Another consequence of jettisoning cap-and-trade is that polluters such as Nova Scotia Power, Heritage Gas, Irving Oil, and Lafarge Cement will no longer have caps or limits on how much carbon they can emit. Limits were previously spelled out in provincial regulations under cap-and-trade legislation. If Ottawa accepts the Houston alternative proposal, companies working here would also pay no federal carbon tax.

When asked if the provincial government was letting polluters off the hook, Halman was quick to tell reporters that was the last thing he wants. Halman said new “performance standards” for big emitters will be introduced by the provincial government, if the federal government accepts the Nova Scotia alternative.

“This is the grey area we are in now as we are waiting for the response from Ottawa,” Halman said. “ It’s a negotiation. But make no mistake we are committed to the targets laid out in EGCCRA (Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act) and there will be a form of performance standards if that transpires.”

As for projects financed through the Green Fund — $15 million was earmarked for municipal or sustainable community projects this spring — this looks as if it might be a limited time offer.

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

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