Muskrat Rises

Danny Williams and Darrell Dexter at the Muskrat Falls announcement.

Laurent Le Pierrès, in his Chronicle Herald editorial on the Muskrat Falls hydro project, reasoned away many of the concerns around the electricity plan Darrell Dexter signed with then Premier of Newfoundland Danny Williams.

The fact of the matter is that the price of coal has jumped 70 per cent over the past eight years… The only way to change reality is to alter the facts on the ground.

At the moment, the advent of renewables is cumulatively adding one to two per cent annually to power rates. But the cost of doing nothing is not nothing. Clinging to coal is like staying on an escalator; at least with renewables, you will hit a plateau.

There are hidden benefits, too. The less NSP spends on foreign coal — $250 million a year as it now stands — the more it invests in the local jobs that go with renewables. The utility’s economic footprint in Nova Scotia will keep growing since it is required by law to hit a target of 40 per cent renewables by 2020.

This will be difficult to do if the plan to import hydro power from Labrador via subsea cable does not proceed. In terms of energy, Muskrat Falls would deliver to Nova Scotia not only the equivalent of one coal-fired unit, but a stable, fixed-cost supply for 35 years.

One issue not tackled in Le Pierrès’ editorial is why Emera does not import hydro electricity from Quebec instead.

For that to work, there would need to be substantial upgrades to New Brunswick’s energy grid and a far greater capacity built into the transmission link between that province and Nova Scotia. Building better capacity between NS and NB is also part of the Maritime Link plan with Newfoundland to ensure Nova Scotia is not “an energy island,” but the transmission link right now is not effective.

Currently, our province can bring in a couple hundred megawatts from New Brunswick, as long as Moncton does not require that energy during their hours of peak energy usage. But inefficiencies in the transmission system mean that although the distance to Newfoundland is longer, there is no significant “line loss” in hydro supplied by Muskrat Falls.

The high voltage direct current from a Newfoundland cable to Cape Breton would mean Nova Scotia Power would not need to buy 10% more energy then it needs to keep your lights on. Line loss from New Brunswick requires Nova Scotians to buy that extra energy lost during transmission.

Energy from Muskrat Falls will account for about 10% of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs, supplied at a firm rate for 35 years, and provided during Nova Scotia’s 16 peak-usage hours.

The agreement with Newfoundland also gives Nova Scotia Power the ability to purchase another 10-15% of our province’s electricity needs at competitive prices instead of that power going to New England markets.


Jobs Here and There

With one of the worst economic performance records of any province over the past 20 years, previous Nova Scotia governments could only hope to boast about having the “lowest unemployment levels in Atlantic Canada.” Nova Scotia’s boasting may carry farther west, if recent Stats Canada data is any indication.

Comparing year-to-year employment rates, it shows that Nova Scotia had the strongest change in the employment rate (+0.9%), followed by Alberta (+0.8%) and PEI (+0.6%), over the past 12 months. As with good public opinion poll numbers, the NDP doesn’t tend to trumpet positive job number news. It’s good to be cautious when comparing month to month statistics, as they will show wild variations due to Statistics Canada’s sample size. However, comparing year-to-year shows a positive trend.

Since employment rates can improve when people stop looking for work, it is important to also check the participation rate trend. We did: the top three provinces to see improvement in their participation rate over the same period were: Newfoundland (+0.8%), Nova Scotia and Alberta (+0.2%).

Nova-Scotia-Job-RateMirroring these two positive statistical trends is the unemployment rate numbers. And here too Nova Scotia ranks in the top 3 of provinces that saw a dip in their respective year-to-year unemployment rates: BC: (-1.8%), Nova Scotia (-1.2%) and Alberta (-0.7%).

In sum, these stats show real positive change over the past 12 months in the Nova Scotia economy. But, maybe the most interesting fact is that Stats Canada reports that counties outside of Halifax added 3,300 jobs last year.

Here on the North Shore, jobs have passed their pre-recession peak, despite most of Canada seeing few signs of recovery. Nova Scotian manufacturing jobs fled Nova Scotia long before the global recession, vanishing from 2000-2009. Nova Scotians should be hopeful that the recent uptick in manufacturing will continue.

It will take time to get Nova Scotia’s manufacturing sector back on its feet. We will continue to see 10 manufacturing jobs in one town and 30 jobs in another as the government, workers and industry rebuild rural Nova Scotia.

As we saw in the Ships Start Here campaign, Nova Scotians are proud to be builders. We need an economy that is made to last, and that starts with manufacturing and the high paying jobs they bring. A job at a steel plant, a ship yard and lumber mill – they have long been a Nova Scotian family’s ticket to the middle class. Today, Nova Scotians can add building wind turbines, LED lights and solar panels to that list. Manufacturing towns are coming back to life.

The Best in Nova Scotia Legislation

There are plenty of political catch-phrases that we’d like to see retired in 2012, including “game-changer”, “post-partisan” and “moving forward”. Nova Scotia’s legislative calendar and best news stories, while not post-partisan, certainly were game-changers and definitely moved the province forward.

We’ve reviewed all the pieces of legislation debated in the House of Assembly and made you this list of the five best.

NDP Finance Minister Graham Steele

1. Graham Steele’s 2011 Budget.
If the best piece of legislation isn’t the budget, the government has introduced a bad one. 2011 may have been the most progressive budget we’ve ever seen. Nova Scotia’s a very poor province – tackling poverty should have been a goal decades ago. While it received little press, it was quietly the top priority for Finance Minister Graham Steele in 2011.

Here are a few of the reasons the centre and left-of-centre voters should have cheered for the 2011 Budget:
• The Nova Scotia Child Benefit was a 22% increase per child, per month, which was the first increase in a decade. Progress on reducing child poverty stalled under the Conservatives. Steps like this will ensure that trend is reversed.
• 250 additional child care subsidies add to the fastest expansion of affordable child care Nova Scotia has seen.
• Foster families received much needed help with the 10% increase to foster care rates – about $50 per child, per month.
• Indexing the NDP’s Poverty Reduction and Affordable Living tax credits to keep up with inflation will help 240,000 Nova Scotia households. Just the fact that many families qualify for the ALTC shows how poor we are on average.
• Disabled Income Assistance recipients who work will keep the first $300 of their earnings (double the current rate), and 30% of the remaining earnings. The right-wing may paint these measures to be insulting to the middle-class. We’ve never seen the social safety net that way. It’s not a hand-up or a hand-out. It’s a measure of equality and justice.

NDP Energy Minister (and Pictou West MLA) Charlie Parker

2. The Clean Energy Act.
One of the “game-changers” for Nova Scotia, the ambitious renewable electricity targets of 40% renewable electricity by 2020, were made a firm legal requirement in 2011. Praised by environmentalists across the country, and oddlyderided by Jamie Baillie and the Conservatives, this is the route to stable electricity prices, lowering green-house gas emissions, and creating good green jobs. The Clean Energy Act will ensure hydro, tidal, wind, solar and cleantech industries will be growth sectors in Nova Scotia. Companies across the province, including TrentonWorks, Chebucto Windfield, CADtech Innovations and Carbon Sense Solutions will grow in 2012.

NDP Health Minister Maureen MacDonald

3. Tattoos for Everyone.
Before the Body Art Act was introduced by Health Minister Maureen MacDonald, anyone could open a tattoo studio with no training. There were no inspections, no licence or certification required. Customers concerned about dirty needles, contamination or infection with hepatitis or HIV were on their own. Tattoo shop owners have been asking for regulations for a decade. With this act, those regulations are on their way. New Glasgow tattoo artist Sean Brophy has been very supportive of this legislation. “It is going to be a good thing. Our industry, our craft in Nova Scotia has been unregulated for its entire history.”

NDP Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks

4. Less Mercury, Lights Great.
How do you lower mercury levels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions with one strike? Pass legislation ensuring all Nova Scotian roads and highways will be lit exclusively with LED lighting. The Energy Saving Roadway Lighting Act will create energy-efficient lighting across the province and likely manufacturing jobs at the LED plant in Amherst. The return of manufacturing to Nova Scotia under the NDP will be vital to the economies of rural Nova Scotia.

NDP Culture Minister Dave Wilson

5. The Rodney MacDonald Tribute.
Fiddlers, with the exception of former Premier Rodney MacDonald, helped artists across the province dance a jig this fall when Culture Minister Dave Wilson introduced legislation to establish Arts Nova Scotia. The Tories killed the independent arts council. It rises again, as sure as the sunrise, as sure as the sea, as sure as the wind in the trees, it rises again.

Note: Regular readers of the Pictou Bee will note Bill 102, the Act to Prevent Unnecessary Labour Disruptions and Protect the Economy, did not make this list. While a fine bill, it simply brought us on par with last century’s standard in labour law, as seen across the country. The right-wing used the bill to create some press-friendly theatre, but the bill deserved a more sombre debate.

Jamie Baillie’s Unforced Error on Energy – Update

Writer Parker Donham, on his blog Contrarian, agreed with us on Jamie Baillie and his Conservatives’ approach to Nova Scotia’s renewable energy targets, writing:

Granted, the climate of public (and media) hostility to Nova Scotia Power makes the utility an almost irresistible target for politicians aiming at the premier’s office, but Baillie’s demand for easing up on renewable energy targets sounds to me like a short-term anaesthetic for long-term pain.

This brought a response from Baillie’s chief-of-staff Rob McCleave, who claimed the Tories weren’t against progress on renewables, but simply wanted consensus-building, and a consideration of renewable energy’s impact on people. Donham, a friend of Baillie’s, disagreed:

Of course, reasonable people can disagree about the pace, but politicians should avoid pandering to the public impression that we can keep power down by sticking with carbon-intensive fuels. We might for a year or two, or even five, but we would be courting medium- and long-term economic disaster.

The problem for Baillie and the Conservatives is that they have spent so much time and effort taking one quote from a government document out of context to try to rally people against renewable energy that McCleave’s private argument isn’t Baillie’s public argument. Here’s an excerpt from Baillie’s speech at a Conservative fundraiser two weeks ago:

They cranked up their own renewable targets to the most aggressive in North America, patted themselves on the back, passed the cost on to you and me, and then told you you need to bite the bullet and pay more finally confessing that it’s 2% more on every bill.

Darrell Dexter and Danny Williams at Renewable Energy Agreement

Today – A plan. Tomorrow – Good Green Jobs, Stable Power Rates and Renewable Energy

Now take that stance on renewable energy targets and compare it with Darrell Dexter’s speech at an NDP fundraiser two weeks ago:

Yesterday, despite wide public support for a move away from fossil fuels, renewable energy development was stalled, with no solution in sight and a terrible sense of failure as coal prices climbed 75 per cent.

Electricity from Newfoundland and Labrador was a distant hope.

Today, Nova Scotia has set, and is meeting, the most aggressive renewable energy targets in North America, creating hundreds of new jobs… massive new investment… and a major reduction in greenhouse gases.

We are finally getting our families off the roller-coaster of fossil fuel prices that drive the cost of electricity.

The Lower Churchill project undertaken by Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, with the federal guarantee, is the linchpin for a new era of regional progress.

Tomorrow, Nova Scotia will be able to offer the stable electricity pricing that is a major asset for any enterprise that wants to avoid unpleasant surprises, and any family that wants a better household budget.

Amusingly, Jamie Baillie has introduced a bill this session called the Next Generation Act, which would require government to assess the long-term sustainability of policies over a 40 year period. You can believe in protecting future generations from climate change, or believe we should go slow on renewables. You can’t believe both.