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Opinion: An Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable Electricity Future for Atlantic Canada is Renewable

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Today, new wind and solar projects are the cheapest [1] forms of electricity on Earth. Five times cheaper than coal, five times cheaper than nuclear energy, and three times cheaper than natural gas. These technologies have advanced significantly in the last 10 years and are more reliable than ever, especially when paired with new transmission networks connecting existing regional hydroelectric power with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and short- and long-term energy storage technologies.

Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB) and Ecology Action Centre (EAC) research [2] shows that electricity plans that favour cleaner electricity are cost-competitive. In fact, of the 24 electricity plans reviewed, 80% of the scenarios favouring efficiency and renewable energy were cheaper or within just a few per cent of the scenarios favouring conventional, polluting technologies.

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What’s more, we can deploy wind, solar and energy storage in just a few years, while it could be a decade or more [4] until we see potential electricity on the grid from technologies like Small Modular Nuclear Reactors [5] (SMRs). When it comes to acting on the climate change crisis, we have no time to waste.

So why do we still lack commitments, plans, and pathways from our governments and utilities to set us on a clear pathway to affordable, reliable, environmentally-sustainable energy with cleaner electricity? What is getting in the way?

It turns out, it’s a political choice. Governments’ laws, regulations, and policies are not keeping pace with technology change or the need to protect our most vulnerable.

Two [6] separate studies [7] by East Coast Environmental Law for CCNB and EAC show, for example, that government rules:

• Stand in the way of spending more to help low-income households spend less on energy;

• Prevent utilities from considering the social and environmental costs of our electricity choices; and

• Fail to send long-term signals to plan now for a zero-emitting electricity system over the next 20 to 30 years.

Nova Scotia Power and NB Power are finalizing long-term plans for electricity in our region. While each has its strengths and weaknesses, we feel the utilities are missing important near- and longer-term opportunities to align health and environmental priorities with discussions of how best to keep the lights on at the relatively affordable rates [8] we enjoy today.

As governments plan for the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to choose to help low-income households and prioritize cleaner electricity to build green careers and bring health and economic benefits to communities. We also have to update outdated utility board processes, rules, and regulations in our region that consistently fail to consider environmental and social costs associated with electricity, including consideration of low-income households and people struggling with energy poverty, when we set power rates.

We must do more to take climate change into account in electricity decisions. Our renewable energy targets must significantly increase over today’s levels, and we need to create new institutions that facilitate regional electricity cooperation. We need a focus on electricity bills, not just electricity rates, to maximize investments in energy efficiency.

We know that we’re living in a climate emergency—with declarations from the federal government, provinces, and dozens of municipalities across Canada. We know that renewable energy is the most affordable electricity on the planet. We know that cleaner electricity pathways are safer, more secure, and healthier for our communities. Let’s choose to get this done.

Part of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and Ecology Action Centre’s Atlantic Electricity Vision Project.