Canadians pull the plug on renewable energy scheme

Canadian province cancels a successful project which rewarded people for generating renewable energy.

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia, on the country’s Atlantic seaboard, has ended a programme which gave citizens an incentive to produce renewable energy.

The decision, which will initially mean lower prices for energy users, is at odds with widespread warnings that renewable energy must rapidly replace fossil fuels.

One Nova Scotian told the Climate News Network the government’s decision was a backwards step: “They have not only cut the legs out from under independent energy developers…they have stolen citizens’ right to access ownership of energy.”

The scheme is the Nova Scotia Community Feed-in Tariff (COMFIT), which was designed to encourage community-based, local renewable energy projects by guaranteeing a rate per kilowatt-hour for the energy the project fed into the province’s electrical grid. 

On 6 August the provincial government announced: This is the right time to bring COMFIT to a close; it has achieved its objectives. We are now at a point where the program could begin to have a negative impact on power rates. Nova Scotians have told us they want stability and affordability when it comes to power rates, and industry wants clarity on the future of the COMFIT program.

The announcement went on: “No new generation is needed to meet electricity demand, and adding capacity would negatively impact rates as Nova Scotians pay more for energy with small-scale, community-based projects than from other sources.

Andy MacCallum of Natural Forces, a company which develops renewable energy in eastern Canada, told the Network: “We’re disappointed. COMFIT was the previous provincial government’s programme: it’s a political decision: if the project continued then the opposition could accuse this government of forcing energy prices up in the short-term.

“But the scheme benefitted small communities, pulling in tens of millions of dollars in investments which without it would not have come here. The losers will be ordinary Nova Scotians.

COMFIT promoted the generation of electricity from wind, tidal, hydro and biomass resources. It was the world’s first feed-in tariff for locally-based renewable energy projects.

Lost exports

Canada is not the first country where a feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme has been ended. The UK, which has stopped supporting onshore wind and solar energy, in 2011 withdrew tax relief from some FITs, leading a number of the larger ones to close. 

But Nova Scotia does look set to lose more than it may hope to gain from closing COMFIT. Not only will small communities now not gain the investments which would have come to them. The entire province will lose the opportunity to generate the surplus electricity which it could then have profitably exported to its neighbours.

The other big loser will be the climate. Nova Scotia is still largely dependent on coal for its electricity, and the end of COMFIT means more dependence on that, or on hydropower.

In November world governments will assemble in Paris for this year’s UN climate summit, where they hope to reach an effective agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to prevent the global average temperature rising by more than 2°C over its pre-industrial level (it has just reached the 1°C mark). 

The International Energy Agency says US$36 trillion of global investment will be needed in clean energy by 2050 to meet the UN goal  $1 trillion a year. Perhaps its message has not reached Nova Scotia. 

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