Nova Scotia Pulls Plug on World’s First Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff

A popular feed-in tariff program in Nova Scotia is being cancelled by the provincial government, according to a recent announcement stating the program “had achieved its objectives.”

The program, the Nova Scotia community feed-in tariff (COMFIT), was the world’s first feed-in tariff system for local energy producers plugging into the grid.

COMFIT was designed to provide an incentive for independent, community-based energy production and guaranteed a stable kilowatt-hour rate for energy fed back into the provincial grid from local renewable energy projects.

As the province describes it, through COMFIT “smaller producers are able to supply renewable energy to their specific community.” But now “no new COMFIT applications will be considered.”

The Climate News Network argues the decision will negatively impact both Nova Scotians and the climate.

“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.”

Last week Nova Scotia’s Liberal government announced it was cancelling the program, initially launched in 2011 by the former New Democrat government.

“This is the right time to bring Comfit to a close; it has achieved its objectives,” the Liberals stated in a press release. “We are now at a point where the programme 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 programme.”

“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.”

The program was initially designed to bring 100-megawatts of independently produced power online. There are currently 80 megawatts of power feeding the province’s energy grid with a capacity of 125 megawatts projected to come online by the end of 2015.

Energy Minister Michel Samson told reporters at the time of the announcement the program would likely “have a negative impact on rates” if it continued. 

Catherine Abreu, energy coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre, worries ending the program signals to Nova Scotians the province is “backing away from support for community-owned renewable power.”

“As pointed out by the Department, the COMFIT program has exceeded expectations both in clean energy output and in contributing to the economic development of Nova Scotian communities. This should be cause for celebration, not cancellation.”

Abreu adds that it might make sense to “[press] pause on any new applications” to make sure any increased capacity remains affordable, “ending the program outright is an unnecessary step backwards.”

Abreu said Nova Scotia has made significant steps to reduce its climate pollution but that “this move signals a retreat from success.”

Nova Scotia needs to continue building on the leadership it has shown in cleaning up its dirty energy system and giving Nova Scotians more control over power generation.”

The government promised to introduce new legislation including an electricity plan in the fall and said it will release  “more details on renewable energy and its role in the province's energy future” at that time.

Local energy developers say they’ve been consulted by the province on the possibility of a new replacement program, the Chronicle Herald reports.

According to Dan Roscoe, chief operating officer of Scotian WindFields, wind projects have been so successful in Nova Scotia, he isn’t surprised the program is ending for large wind turbines.

Wind power generates about 10 per cent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs and the province has a goal of achieving a goal of 25 per cent renewables in their overall energy mix by 2015. That number must increase to 40 per cent by 2020.

“We knew the program was oversubscribed” for wind energy, Roscoe said. But he added he was surprised the program was being cancelled for other alternatives like solar energy.

Shaw Boudreau of Endurance Wind Power told the Chronicle Herald the province has consulted industry about an electricity plan to be released this fall, but said he wasn’t apprised of the details.

“We’ve been working with them on the smaller-scale portion,” Boudreau said. “We’re expecting to see a…different program with similar characteristics.” 

Image Credit: Wind turbines on Dalhouse Mountain. Photo: Nova Scotia government

Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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