Power Play

We expect electricity prices will remain an important part of politics this fall, and think the NDP and the Conservatives can both score points on this issue from the left and right wings as the Legislature begins its session.

Stephen McNeil is in over his head on energy policy, and that gives Darrell Dexter and Jamie Baillie room to move on the issue.

Putting the HST back on home heating, making dangerous promises in their TV attack ads, and fighting Efficiency Nova Scotia’s independent status – McNeil’s power plan would make their worst moves on energy since the Liberals started to tax electricity.

Jamie Baillie can make up the ground he lost if his Conservatives downplay their odd attacks on renewable energy and continue to focus on the UARB instead. Tilting at windmills was a major error by the NSPC.

Darrell Dexter, by announcing legislation limiting power rate increases and executive bonuses, proves the NDP is no friend of Nova Scotia Power. And by negotiating a greenhouse gas reduction agreement with the federal government, the NDP to will save ratepayers from paying $1.3 billion.

The Liberals have worked hard to make power bills the defining issue of 2012. Unfortunately, their leader’s plan comes dangerously close to qualifying as a prank instead of a policy plank.


The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Baillie

Jamie Baillie and the Conservatives continue to tell their political base in Nova Scotia that it is the NDP’s efforts on growing renewable energy and fighting climate change, and not the high price of coal, that is increasing power rates. We’ve written about Baillie’s unforced error on energy before: here and here.

But when he’s talking to a different audience, such as the National Press Club, Baillie offers a very different view on hydro-electricity, coal power and electricity prices:

Jamie Baillie: I am an opposition leader… This is one of those times when I actually completely agree with what the government is doing and have said so in the legislature… Coal is dirty and expensive and getting more expensive and electricity prices continue to climb in my region as a result – which is a hardship for our industrial base and manufacturing… This agreement provides an opportunity to give Atlantic Canada a long-term fixed-price to a clean, green supply of electricity… This may be the single, greatest way that by working together we can kick start real, true sustainable long term economic growth for our region… I commit my party to making sure we will use this as a start of a whole new age.

The NDP understand coal prices are driving electricity costs up and that cheap hydro and community-owned small-scale renewables are solutions to rate increases. The Liberals say much the same. And Jamie Baillie? It depends on the audience.

The Conservatives have lately taken to claiming that Nova Scotians pay the highest rates for electricity in the country. If we stay fixed to coal, that may become true. Right now it’s false. Take a look at this chart from Hydro Quebec and take note of the price of electricity in hydro-rich provinces like BC, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland and coal-reliant Alberta. Lower-priced hydro will help bring a healthier mix to our electricity and keep rates stable.

Average electricity prices in Canada.

Electric Avenue

Opening up the electricity market to competition sounds good. Unfortunately, as California has seen, there is risk. Free-market competition – viable for awhile in California – ended in brownouts and bankruptcy.

With ‘deregulation’ now a bad word in energy politics, in 2003 New Brunswick pursued partial market opening for all generators, not just renewables. While called deregulation by nearly everyone – CP journalists, energy analysts from outside the province, and even the Energy Minister – the government started spinning it as “re-regulation.” Ten years later, the New Brunswick Energy Blueprint said partial market opening was a failure and is now irrelevant. New Brunswick found that with such a small energy market, no companies could get the start-up cash to enter the market.

We asked Liberal MLA Andrew Younger about his energy ideas and he assured us that deregulation is not his goal saying “an unregulated electricity market would be potentially very bad for Nova Scotia.”

Andrew Younger: There is no single quick fix and we have been very clear to say that and very clear to say that there are many elements to a successful energy plan. We also believe that Nova Scotians, from a competitive point of view, and cost of living point of view, need some certainty and answers.

There are many ideas circulating from the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives about how to tackle rising electricity rates in Nova Scotia. Here are the best five that all parties should support.

1. Moving forward with Newfoundland and Nova Scotia’s Lower Churchill Falls hydro project. This project will provide a generation of stable, sustainable power.

2. Upgrading the electricity grid between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This would allow cheap hydro to come our way from Quebec.

3. Continuing with Nova Scotia’s COMFIT program. Providing a secure supply of clean energy at stable prices with community-owned renewable energy projects is a unique, made-in-Nova Scotia solution.

4. Harnessing the energy of the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia’s bid to become a North American leader in tidal energy needs to continue to take steps forward. We could be an energy exporter if successful.

5. Keep the HST off home heating. Putting this tax back on would not be politically-wise, and more importantly would be noticed immediately by consumers. Just because it was an NDP idea is not a reason to reverse it.

The Bee’s Knees – Prizes for Week 5

Each week the Legislature is in session we’ll give out four prizes for the best and worst moments, as recorded in Hansard.

Killer Bee:

The NDP introduced a bill to create an independent Arts Council for Nova Scotia – something the arts sector had been demanding for ten years – ever since it was surprisingly axed by the Conservative government of the day. Before the NDP had an opportunity, Liberal MLA Junior Theriault pointed out the odd spot the Conservatives found themselves in and won the Killer Bee prize:

Junior Theriault: I know it’s a good bill, it’s good for our culture in Nova Scotia, and it’s good for arts in Nova Scotia, period – it’s going to be interesting to see what the Third Party is saying, after they cut this bill 10 years ago. (Laughter)

The Conservatives will, amusingly, support the bill to create a council they destroyed.

Drone of the Week

1 drone noun \drōn\
a stingless bee that does not gather nectar or pollen
2 drone intransitive verb \drōn\
to talk in a persistently dull or monotonous tone

Keith Colwell’s odd comments on cigarettes and alcohol hopefully will not make it into the Liberal’s tax policy come next election. They do win him this week’s Drone of the Week prize, though:

Keith Colwell: I know the Minister of Finance with his income and his family’s income can afford to buy a $500 or $600 bottle of wine anytime he wants. Most Nova Scotians cannot afford that. So if they can get a bottle of wine for $2 or $3, a good-quality wine, then indeed it’s a benefit to them…

You know, I had totally forgotten about the fact that they put the price of alcohol up in this province and I totally forgot that they increased the price of tobacco. When you look at tobacco and the cost of tobacco – and I’m a non-smoker, an avid non-smoker, but I don’t say anything or I don’t interfere with anybody who does smoke because that’s their right to do so if they so wish, but it’s another tax that the no-tax regime of this government – before they got into power they said, we’re not going to tax anybody.

Ask the wineries in the Annapolis Valley about their craft. Then ask them to sell you a good-quality bottle of wine for two or three dollars. Then ask them for their vote.

Bumble Bee:

We don’t mean to pick on back-room boy Jamie Baillie this often, but his attack on renewable energy and unwillingness to talk about the increasing price of coal are troubling, and win Jamie Baillie this week’s Bumble Bee prize.

Jamie Baillie: Today’s URB decision means that … everyone’s bill is going up. We cannot go on like this. Will the Premier commit today to reviewing his “bite the bullet” electricity plan that has all Nova Scotian’s paying more?

Premier Dexter: If there were ever a time for the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party to apologize to the people of Nova Scotia, it would be today. The simple fact of the matter is, the reason why we find ourselves in the position where the Utility and Review Board has to make this decision is because for a decade the former Progressive Conservative Government refused to engage in a renewable electricity plan that would get Nova Scotians off of fossil fuels and prevent the kind of roller coaster that we have seen in power rates that is directly attributable to the decisions of the past government.

Honey Bee:

Forestry, despite it being front and centre in the news cycle often of late, does not receive much time in the legislature. NDP MLA Sid Prest brought the topic up in late debate, and we’re pleased to MLA took the time to share his experience:

Now, it’s hard to get people’s attention about the forestry and what it provides, but it’s not only a fibre-producing area. It is habitat and home to wildlife, it’s for clean water, our air, our quality, and recreation. There are so many uses, but the only value we seem to put on it is the fibre value. If I had a brick of gold here, a pound of gold, it would be worth roughly $20,400 on today’s market. I could have $20,000 of standing timber on my land and people would go for that shiny piece of gold. At the same time, the forestry and the trees would be growing more in value. So people have to understand and get a better sense of what we’ve got…

We all know we can’t change the past. What we can do is learn from our mistakes and move forward in the future. We all know that Nova Scotia has a long history in the forestry industry and we’ll have a bright future now that we have the Natural Resources Strategy in place. The strategy, which was released in August of this year, is built on the following four goals: collaborative leadership; sustainable resource development; research and knowledge sharing; and good governance…

The most important goal in my opinion is sustainable resource development. I’m proud to say that our government has developed a strategy that will help manage Nova Scotia’s forests to achieve a sustainable balance of economic, environmental and social benefits to current and future generations of Nova Scotians.