Ex-Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter reflects on a program that ushered in a golden age of renewable energy

Ex-Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter reflects on a program that ushered in a golden age of renewable energy

WE CAME INTO GOVERNMENT in 2009 with a strong sense that questions around climate change and the environment had to be addressed. What we didn’t fully understand was that under the Federal Environment Act there were regulations that were going to have a tremendous impact on Nova Scotia. That was the phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation. It was going to mean about $1 billion in stranded assets to Nova Scotia Power.
That was inevitably going to be passed on to ratepayers and that energy production was going to have to be replaced. COMFIT was an idea we thought was pretty significant – encouraging community-based renewable energy projects by guaranteeing a rate per kilowatt-hour for the energy the projects fed into Nova Scotia’s electricity grid. I used to have this saying that you’re not going to find a silver bullet, it’s silver buckshot. You have to do a lot of different things to get where you want to go. COMFIT, Efficiency Nova Scotia, even things like mandating street lighting across the province be changed over to LED, were actions we believed would help on both sides of the ball – supplying additional green energy and reducing consumption.
When the plan came out it was generally well received by the groups interested in energy development. But the question the media focused on at the time was how this was going to increase power costs. That became the story. However, it missed the bigger point that we needed a way to deal with what the federal government was doing and with climate change and that we were so reliant on international fossil fuel markets.
The plan led to the equivalency agreement Nova Scotia signed last year with the federal government that prevented ratepayers from being left with a bunch of stranded assets in the utility.Whenever you enact a new policy, you don’t know how successful that policy is going to be. It depends on a lot of factors. At the time our target was to bring about 100 megawatts of power online through the program. It became oversubscribed. If you look at the program parameters and what we were expecting, all of them were met. If we hadn’t introduced COMFIT, Nova Scotia wouldn’t have been able to make the argument with the federal government that we were doing our part and moving off of fossil fuels. It would have eliminated options the provincial government has today.
The impact energy supply has on the climate is one of the most profound challenges for jurisdictions around the world. When you’re in the premier’s office, you receive far more information and briefings than the public. You are more aware and attuned to what’s happening in your province and other jurisdictions. I consider COMFIT to be really significant work. If you’re a person involved in public life, it is the significance of the work that you do that’s most satisfying. I appreciated the opportunity to be able to do it. I look back on it with a great deal of pride.

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