Green power ‘biggest challenge’ facing Nova Scotia regulator, says outgoing president

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The chairman of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board says the province will need more hydroelectricity to meet tough environmental standards that will see all coal-fired power plants shut down by 2030.

After 18 years as chairman of the quasi-judicial regulatory board, Peter Gurnham will step down at the end of the month. Navigating a decarbonized future awaits his successor, he said.

“Clearly the biggest challenge the new president is going to have is how we are going to meet these carbon targets both 2030 and 2050, because we have to be net neutral by 2050,” Gurnham said in a statement. rare interview with CBC News.

“A lot of it depends on access to reliable electricity, which is plentiful in other parts of the country. Unfortunately, not in Nova Scotia.”

Gurnham said Hydro-Quebec is a likely source, provided the grid connection with New Brunswick is improved to bring it to Nova Scotia.

The most significant case during his tenure involved the greening of the system – the approval of Maritime Link to supply hydroelectricity from Labrador to Nova Scotia Power customers.

More green electricity needed

The review panel issued its final decision on the megaproject earlier this month, authorizing Emera, the parent company of Nova Scotia Power, to collect $1.7 billion from ratepayers over the next 35 years.

Emera’s partner in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nalcor, missed its share of the project, but contracted quantities of hydropower from Muskrat Falls are now being delivered via the 177-kilometre Maritime Link submarine cable across the Cabot Strait, albeit years behind schedule.

Gurnham said more green electricity will be needed when Nova Scotia Power’s coal-fired plants shut down in eight years.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are pressuring Ottawa to help with the cost of upgrading interprovincial grid connections – dubbed the Atlantic Loop – to help provinces wean off coal.

“It’s going to mean higher electricity rates unless policymakers find the money, taxpayers’ money or government money that can help with some of that,” Gurnham said.

“Obviously, if that happens, it will reduce the impact on taxpayers. But without that, these coal-fired plants were prudent when they were built, and Nova Scotia Power is entitled to recover their prudent costs with respect to these plants.

“At the same time, they have to find clean energy to keep the lights on. So it’s a big challenge, but we’re working on it on several fronts and the board will react to any assignments given to us. “

Advice misunderstood by the public

Without the Atlantic Loop, he said natural gas would be needed.

In addition to regulating electricity, the review board also oversees auto insurance, water rates, natural gas, buses, gaming, payday loans, the Halifax-Dartmouth bridges, appeals in terms of urban planning and municipal boundaries.

Its full-time staff of 30 and eight full-time commissioners regulate 38 provincial statutes.

Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University’s School of Public Administration, said the regulator has an “important role in a lot of things that really affect your day-to-day life from a cost perspective,” but is not not well understood by the public.

“We focus on elected officials. We focus on the power of the prime minister. It’s also about accountability. When we elect people, we expect them to be accountable for the decisions they make.” , said Turnbull.

“Although on the one hand it is good that it is an independent and non-political board, on the other hand it means that there is not this direct public accountability.

Gurnham said one of his biggest challenges during his tenure was to make the board more transparent, and he believes he has achieved that.

To promote public trust, credibility and transparency, Gurnham has opened its operations to the public. Cameras have been allowed in courtrooms and proceedings and evidence is now published online.

Gurnham also hired a consumer advocate to protect the interests of Nova Scotia Power’s 400,000 residential customers and a small business advocate.

Coverage not informed enough

Yet the review board is often seen as an accomplice of Nova Scotia Power — the most important company it regulates and a favorite villain on social media.

Gurnham said he doesn’t read the unsigned comments – “Otherwise I’d go crazy.”

He added that the disappearance of informed media coverage of his hearings and decisions in recent years has had an impact.

“With the exception of CBC and AllNovaScotia.com, we don’t see a lot of mainstream media here anymore. So unfortunately Nova Scotians find out about what we do on Facebook,” he said.

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