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1. The Narrows Public House
“Halifax councillors have approved a patio addition for a Gottingen Street pub despite concerns from some neighbours,” reports Zane Woodford:
The Narrows Public House opened in a restored heritage building at 2720 Gottingen St. last year, serving food and drink indoors. The owners applied this year for an amendment to their development agreement to allow a patio in the back of the building.
The patio will have 25 seats. Under the amendment to the development agreement, there will be no music on the patio. And indoors, the agreement permits only acoustic music.
2. Economic impact: what we count, and what we don’t count
“Sixteen firms submitted bids to perform an economic impact assessment of the Cat ferry service that sails between Yarmouth, N.S. and Bar Harbor, Maine,” reports Michael Gorman for the CBC:
[Public Works Minister Kim] Masland, who last fall first said she wanted the study, said she expects the tender will be awarded some time in September. She said her department had “great feedback” from stakeholders in the tourism sector, as well as municipalities and opposition MLAs, as they drafted the request for proposals.
The work will take about two years, which means its delivery will coincide with the end of the current contract the provincial government has with service provider Bay Ferries. Masland said she isn’t focused on the end date of the contract.
The timeframe of the study means thorough data will be collected to assess whether taxpayers are getting good bang for their buck, said Masland. The ferry received a $17.9-million operating subsidy during the 2022 sailing season.
I’m going to repeat myself here to get to a larger point. Here’s what I wrote in March:
There are so many problems with economic impact studies that it’s hard to know where to begin, but let me outline a few:
1. Non-critical analysis. The study of anything should begin with a position of skepticism: does what is being claimed reflect a real assessment of the world, or is the context so distorted by prejudices that it’s impossible to end up with anything that resembles an objective assessment?
The fact that self-interested groups — the tourism companies and municipalities — are attempting to define the scope of work suggests an industry-favourable conclusion will be baked into the analysis.
2. Non-critical analyser. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it,” wrote Upton Sinclair, and this presents the ethical problem posed by the companies that are in the economic impact analysis business.
Put simply: they are often hired by the self-interested groups that desire a study result that places their project in a favourable light. But if they keep coming back with economic impact studies that show the studied project will not produce the desired results, who’s going to hire them in the future?
I’m reminded of the role credit-rating agencies played in the financial collapse of 2008. They knew the collateralized loans that were bundled together by banks and sold as investment vehicles were shit, but calling the investment vehicles shit would lead to lost sales of their services to the banks. So instead, the rating agencies changed the criteria for assessing the investment vehicles, and voilà!, a turd was polished into gold.
In terms of economic impact assessments, I’m not aware of a single company — not one — that was hired by the project backer and produced a negative view of the project’s economic impact.
3. Over-reliance on ‘multipliers.’ All economic impact analyses in Canada rely on provincial and national ‘multipliers’ provided by Stats Canada…
Problem is, economists are quite skeptical of the large claims of impacts caused by multipliers. And you’ll find that skepticism expressed in working papers to the World Bank, from directors at the US Federal Reserve Bank, and widely in academia.
Anyone with basic math skills could conduct an economic impact assessment by uncritically accepting inputs from the backer organization and running them through the Stats Canada multiplier formulas to get exacting outputs, but it’s all bullshit.
4. Lack of comparisons. Another big problem with economic impact analyses is they act in isolation.
Sure, spend $1 gazillion dollars on a stadium, and people will go to the stadium and buy $12 beers and shitty made-by-Indonesian-slaves merch, and run that through the multipliers and you’ll find there was $3.2 gazillion dollars in economic impact.
But what aren’t the people spending the money on? In order to afford all those $12 beers and shitty made-by-Indonesian-slaves merch, they’ll have to cut down on the money they’re already spending on getting sloppy drunk at The Dome and buying delicious Montreal Style Bagels on Wyse Road. And nobody’s calculating those lost sales or the economic impact from them — it’s entirely possible that the positive economic impact of $3.2 gazillion from the stadium is offset by a $4.3 gazillion negativeeconomic impact from the loss of people getting sloppy drunk at The Dome and buying delicious Montreal Style Bagels on Wyse Road. So despite the fancy economic impact analysis, the stadium leaves us worse off economically, not better.
But despite my misgivings, let’s tentatively accept the logic and methodologies of economic impact analyses.
There’s still one other problem: what we count and what we don’t count.
This came to mind starkly for me when I was reporting on Carrie Low, and Emma Halpern told me that the pro bono legal assistance given to Low was on the order of $600,000 to $800,000.
Now obviously, the first and fundamental cost we should be talking about with regard to sexual assaults is to the survivors. Never mind the money — it’s the psychic and emotional burdens and the related effects on their personal and social lives that matter.
But that said, what of the actual financial costs?
If we were to run a standard economic impact analysis on Carrie Low’s sexual assault and its aftermath, we’d first collect all the direct costs. These would include the $600,000 to $800,000 for Low’s lawyers, but we’d also have to add the costs of the other lawyers at the Police Review Board hearing — one union-supplied lawyer for Const. Bojan Novakovic, one city-supplied lawyer for the police force, three provincially supplied judges on the board. Then there are all the clerks, researchers, assistants, the room rental, the janitorial staff, and so forth. Then do that for the two criminal trials, the civil case in the works. And policing must total in the tens of thousands of hours by now.
That’s just the direct costs. By standard analysis, we’d then multiply that by some sets of factors to get a “total economic impact.”
I’d guess that if we ran that analysis, we’d find that this one sexual assault and police mishandling of it have resulted in several tens of millions of dollars in economic impact.
Now, you could argue this is a good thing. As I’ve noted before, on simple economic accounting terms, the Halifax Explosion was a big positive, as it resulted in lots of foreign aid coming to Halifax and several years of constant work for the construction industry as the city was rebuilt. In Low’s case, all those lawyers and clerks and janitors and cops were gainfully employed, putting food on their tables and spreading money around town, so a big net positive.
That of course is a ridiculous argument. Thousands of people died and were injured in the Halifax Explosion, and Low has suffered greatly. There’s nothing good about either one of these things.
Moreover, all these people could be doing other things. It’s not healthy — not in a societal sense, and not in a personal sense — for people to be employed in battling over the consequences of a sexual assault. I’m just a bit player in this, but even I was kinda fucked up by just reporting on it. Imagine instead if the lawyers were, I dunno, creating legislation for a green economy, and if the clerks were using their talents to process refugees, and if the janitors were cleaning the local elementary school, and if I was writing that science fiction novel I’ve always fantasized about writing.
There’s really no way to look at the enormous economic impact of Carrie Low’s case as anything but a huge net minus cost to society.
Now take that one calculation and apply it to all sexual assaults, all other police screwups, and the criminal justice system generally.
But we don’t run those kinds of economic impact analyses. Somebody right now is calculating that a CFL stadium in Halifax will have an economic impact of $47,388,292.48, but nobody at all is calculating what the economic impact of sexual assault is.
We want to know the answers to some questions, and we don’t want to know the answers to other questions, so some things get counted and other things don’t get counted.
3. Geoengineering comes to Halifax; maybe we should talk about the potential downsides
A Dalhousie researcher and a CBC reporter yesterday blithely discussed geoengineering:
Some parts of the Halifax harbour turned a bright shade of pink on Thursday — for science.
Researchers with Dalhousie University added pink fluorescent dye to Nova Scotia Power’s Tufts Cove Generating Station in Dartmouth, so the colour can be tracked as it moves through the harbour over the next couple of days.
It’s part of an experiment that could one day help the ocean better absorb carbon dioxide.
“This is only a small bit, actually, in a much bigger research endeavour,” Katja Fennel, an oceanographer leading the research, told CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon on Thursday.
I don’t want to overstate this. Fennel was clear that carbon emissions must be reduced and that means getting off fossil fuels, full stop.
And the burning of fossil fuels is geoengineering on the highest order. Understood.
But until around 1980, the burning of fossil fuels was (mostly) unintentional geoengineering — humanity as a whole could plead ignorance as to the planet-changing effects of throwing so much carbon into the atmosphere. Since then, it’s been largely a matter of lies and then lip service to addressing the problem, coupled with a reluctance to give up our modern economy by changing our ways.
In contrast, the geoengineering schemes that are suggested to address the problem — whether it be spreading sulfate aerosols in the upper atmosphere, or in this case, ocean alkalinity enhancement — is purposeful bioengineering that takes place in a geologic instant. No one truly knows the ultimate downside effects of such engineering.
Nowhere in her discussion with Brett Ruskin did Fennel mention potential downsides of the alkalinity enhancement technology.
There’s academic literature about this, but my quick read is that the modelling just isn’t very advanced. There are concerns about localized effects on plankton, which are the very base of the entire planet’s food chain, but even that isn’t well understood. So far as I can see, the main thrust of the research so far is that the technology will counter ocean acidification and so save coral reefs.
To my ears, this all sounds very mad-scientist-y, grad students in white lab coats deciding on a whim what the future ecosystem look like, and if they forget to carry the two or accidentally leave out a factor on that giant chalkboard in their laboratory, well, nice planet we had.
But let’s set the science aside and consider the social context of using the technology. The grad students in white lab coats are people, as are the companies promoting the technology, the governments that regulate it, the public that stands to benefit from it. And because people are, well, people, all along that chain are individual and collective biases, ignorances, egos, and social practices.
Fennel didn’t say who is funding the research, but she did say it’s being done in collaboration with a Dartmouth company, Planetary Technologies, which last year changed its name from Planetary Hydrogen.
I can’t find any explanation for how the company proposes to turn a profit, a point I’ll return to.
Here’s how the company describes its technology:
While commodity products like hydroxides (alkalinity) are already available on the market, the carbon footprint of these would negate much of the intended carbon removals. Therefore, Planetary started from scratch to find waste minerals (mine tailings) from around the world to use as a feedstock for purification in our electrochemical cells.
We start by carefully extracting key parts of the mine tailings including recovering battery metals (like nickel and cobalt) and silica (sand) and then take the remaining purified metal salt solution into a special electrolyzer. There, using clean, renewable electricity, the salt and water are split to make hydrogen (a clean, emissions-free fuel), and a pure alkaline hydroxide.
It’s from this point that we transport the bulk alkaline materials to our ocean outfalls site where the alkalinity is introduced to the surface ocean that then draws in CO2, sequestering it as already abundant bicarbonate and carbonate ions in seawater.
Planetary’s proprietary alkalinity dosing system will readily integrate into many pre-existing ocean outfalls. This way, we can reduce the carbon intensity and footprint of building new cement and steel projects while also staying within existing local permitting for ocean discharge.
I have no idea if any of that works in the technological sense. Maybe! But I’ve observed people and corporations and governments and industries and lobbyists and Joe Sixpacks in action for a long time, and here’s what I think will happen even if the technology does work:
• The use of mine tailings to “save the earth” will mean there will be less regulatory pressure on mining companies to contain those tailings;
• As we’re seeing with EverWind, while the ultimate goal is to use renewably generated power to process the tailings, in the short term it will be powered directly off the dirty grid, and, in a twist on Keynes, in the long run we’ll all be dead;
• The siting of ocean outfalls will be fraught with corruption and backroom deals;
But, and this is the real point:
• While Fennel absolutely believes that the technology will only be used as an add-on as we eliminate the use of fossil fuels, this is not how the world works.
In the real world, the world away from the giant chalkboard and earnest grad students in white lab coats, companies make money, or at least try to. And any carbon storage system, whether it works or not (it’s even better if it doesn’t work), will become part of the global industrial and finance machine. The various highly polluting borgs out there — cement factories, steel plants, oil and gas extraction, etc. — will inevitably use the carbon storage technology as the base for an elaborate Ponzi scheme of carbon credits and offsets, so that they can continue to spew fossil fuels into the atmosphere and can justify doing so as they’ve shuffled it all off to a Dartmouth company that realizes profits by papering over the pyramid.
Hey, maybe I’m just a cynical old fart and am completely wrong. Maybe all the players, from the grad students to the corporate carbon capturers to the cement and steel barons to the Ponzi schemers, have pure and informed intentions and hearts of gold besides, and have completely abandoned the social habits of the last 10,000 years or so of human history, and if so, I will go buy a hat specifically so I can eat it.
But maybe if we’re discussing geoengineering, we might just mention the potential downsides?
4. Clean electricity
This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.
The federal government unveiled proposed clean electricity regulations on Thursday intended to significantly reduce carbon emissions at the same time there is growing demand for electricity.
The federal goal is a net-zero emissions grid by 2035. Yet projections from the federal Environment and Climate Change department show that by 2050, utilities will need to produce between 1.4 and 2.5 times the amount of electricity they do today.
Here’s what a senior department official told journalists during a briefing on the regulations:
We estimate that more than $400 billion is going to need to be invested between now and 2050 to replace aging facilities and expand generation to respond to the twin demands of a growing population and the increased electrification of the economy, as Canadians switch to electric cars, adopt electrical heating for buildings, and electrify industrial processes such as steel and aluminum production. We estimate that the incremental cost of the regulations — on top of that enormous base line investment — will lead to a fairly modest increase in electricity rates. On average, that increase will be less than 2% across Canada by 2040.
What that increase will be in Nova Scotia, where we still rely on coal and fossil fuels for over 50% of our electricity, remains an open question.
The Examiner has asked the federal Environment and Climate Change department for an estimate and we will update this story when we receive an answer.
At the briefing that preceded the announcement by the federal ministers of Environment & Climate Change (Steven Guilbeault) and Energy and Natural Resources (Jonathan Wilkinson), reporters were told increases in electricity costs could be significantly reduced if provinces and power companies take advantage of a plethora of federal programs, subsidies, and incentives worth $40 billion over the next 10 years. These are outlined in the latest federal budget where the Atlantic Loop receives a mention but no specific financial commitment.
“Bringing clean, reliable, and affordable power to every region of Canada is an enormous undertaking.,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, in a news release. “It is a nation-building project that requires significant investments, thoughtful regulations, and our fullest collaboration. Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to achieving a clean electricity system for the benefit of all Canadians.”
As drafted, the proposed Clean Electricity regulations would cut more than 340 megatons of greenhouse gas pollution between 2024 and 2050.
A senior official with Environment & Climate Change claims that while Canadians can expect to see the cost of electricity go up, our total energy costs which include what we pay to heat our homes and drive our vehicles are projected to go down by 12%, according to what the department refers to as several independent studies.
Impact on Nova Scotia Power
When the regulations take effect in 2035, generating stations will be held to a strict performance standard of no more than 30 tonnes of carbon per gigawatt hour. Financial penalties for non-compliance will be written into the Environment Protection Act.
This could create big problems for utilities such as Nova Scotia Power. Federal and provincial legislation outlaw the burning of coal in Nova Scotia after 2030. However, the proposed Clean Electricity regulations do offer a break to utilities that burn natural gas.
The regulations will allow limited production from fossil-fuel generating stations if the electricity is required during emergencies or to back-up renewable sources of energy during periods of peak demand, such as a cold winter day.
This flexibility could be a big help to Nova Scotia Power if it reduces its problem of “stranded assets,” that is continuing to pay the mortgage on polluting coal plants built during the John Buchanan era that should be retired but might still get turned on as back up to wind and solar, if they can be quickly converted to natural gas.
Nova Scotia Power has submitted five-year capital plans to the Utility and Review Board that include converting a number of coal-fired generating stations to natural gas, although the timeline appears to be a moving target.
The province has also commissioned an additional 350 MW from five wind farms with a delivery date of December 2025.
Asked for comment, Nova Scotia Power’s senior communications advisor Jacqueline Foster responded:
We will be reviewing the Clean Electricity regulations with the lens of understanding the implications for our customers and operations, with an emphasis on reliability and costs. Having clarity on Canada’s Clean Electricity Regulations, including the cost impacts of the transition, is an important step in achieving the clean energy future we are all working towards.
Although Canada’s grid is already 84% clean, there are significant regional differences across the country — especially in Nova Scotia. The approach to cleaner energy across Canada has to be fair and it has to ensure reliable energy supply for all customers. We’re committed to achieving the 2030 climate goals of moving off coal and reaching 80% renewable energy by 2030. There are four coal fired plants (8 units) operating in Nova Scotia right now.
The public has 75 days on which to submit feedback to the federal government and the final regulations are expected to be proclaimed in 2025.
All new power plants built after 2025 must comply with the new performance standard of 30 tonnes of carbon per gigawatt hour.
Federal officials say the new regulations for the electricity sector will help Canadians dealing with the costs and impact of climate change (more frequent fires, flooding, and coastal erosion).
And in background materials supplied to reporters, Ottawa says the new rules could provide health benefits, “in 2015 Health Canada estimated air pollution from electrical generating plants caused 150 premature deaths a year and contributed to treatments worth at least $1.2 billion annually.”
In the harbour
05:30: ZIM Shekou, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Valencia, Spain
06:15: Solar Sally, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage for inspection from Rotterdam
08:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for Baltimore
15:30: Solar Sally sails for sea
16:00: NACC Providence, cement carrier, sails from anchorage for sea
16:30: ZIM Shekou sails for New York
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for St. John’s
18:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Pier 41 for Saint-Pierre
19:00: STI Marshall, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
04:30 (Saturday): CMA CGM Chennai, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco
07:30: Jean Joseph, cargo ship, arrives at Mulgrave from Cap-Aux-Meules, Quebec
09:00: Pacific, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea
10:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Pirate Harbour anchorage from Belledun, New Brunswick
13:00: Algoma Value, bulker, sails from Aulds Cove quarry for sea
13:00: CSL Tarantau moves to Aulds Cove quarry
Sunday: Coral Princess, cruise ship with up to 2,390 passengers at Sydney
I spent the entire day in the municipal archives yesterday. I found lots of interesting things, but you won’t hear about them for a while, as this is a large project that will take considerable time to put together.
It’s always a trade off, time-wise. I basically have to ignore all my other responsibilities to take the time needed to attend to this project, but thankfully, the Examiner crew (especially Suzanne Rent and Iris the Amazing) step up and run the ship in my absence. It also means that the Morning Files I author are weaker than I would like.
But I’m making that trade more often lately. I don’t know if “enjoy” is the right word, but I find personal satisfaction in, say, taking a month to concentrate on the Carrie Low profile, or as I’m doing now, taking every opportunity to chip away at a story that has intrigued me for years. I think, or at least hope, I’m good at this, and that the reporting ultimately has value for you, the reader.
I remind myself that that’s why I started the Examiner all those nine years ago: in large part, so I could pursue big stories and do some detailed long-form journalism.
Anyway, please subscribe. Thanks.