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Rapidly switching from burning coal and biomass to renewable energy sources is vital if Nova Scotia is to take any meaningful action on climate change, says the Sierra Club’s Atlantic chapter.

And with a provincial election less than a month away, the organization is hoping politicians will make their stance on these important issues clear.

“We can choose our leaders and decide who is actually going to take climate change and other environmental issues seriously,” said Gretchen Fitzgerald, national programs director for the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.

Sierra Club is one of many organizations and members of the public to submit a report to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change as part of a public consultation on the province’s Sustainable Development Goals Act (SDGA) and New Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth.

The consultations are asking Nova Scotians for their ideas on fighting climate change and growing the clean economy.

The Sierra Club’s recommendations are wide-ranging and call on the government to shut down forest biomass plants and halt clear-cutting on public land by 2022, undertake deep energy retrofits for social housing by 2030, stop subsidizing fossil fuels, halt offshore oil and gas expansion, and more.

The Sierra Club is also calling on the government to ensure 75 per cent of electricity is generated from renewable, non-GHG-emitting sources by 2025, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Fitzgerald said there is strong public support for a transition away from fossil fuels, which means “each and every person running in this election has a mandate to support this shift.”

Eighty-five per cent of Nova Scotians support transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy and efficiency systems, according to regional polling done in the spring by The Atlantic Quarterly and commissioned by the Council of Canadians, Sierra Club Canada Foundation, and the Ecology Action Centre (EAC).

To get off fossil fuels and onto renewable energy sources, Nova Scotia needs the Atlantic Loop for short-term electricity supply until other energy storage options are available, says @ecologyaction energy co-ordinator Gurprasad Gurumurthy.

With the election coming, Noreen Mabiza, an energy co-ordinator with the EAC, said it's important for politicians to be laying out how they are going to achieve the goals set out in this SDGA consultation process, how they're going to incorporate the responses, and what their plans are for the province’s climate policy moving forward.

It all comes down to dramatically decarbonizing Nova Scotia’s electricity grid by displacing coal, oil and any large-scale biomass, said Mabiza, whose organization also submitted feedback through the SDGA public consultation. She said the province’s high wind potential presents an opportunity for increasing levels of domestic renewable energy.

Noreen Mabiza is an energy co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre and is urging Nova Scotians to ask politicians tough questions about climate action in the final weeks before the provincial election. Photo by Noreen Mabiza

The Atlantic Loop

For this transition from coal to renewables to be possible, Nova Scotia needs the Atlantic Loop, the EAC says.

The Atlantic Loop would upgrade transmission capacity on the East Coast so hydroelectric power from Labrador and Quebec can displace coal use in regions like Nova Scotia.

Gurprasad Gurumurthy, energy co-ordinator for renewables and electricity at the EAC, said the Atlantic Loop will be key to phasing out coal because the power grid needs to be stable and more reliable, and has to supply electricity in the short-term until other energy storage options become available.

“We're essentially looking at a regional network grid, which can save each other from, let's say, the blackout that Nova Scotia faced in 2019,” said Gurumurthy. “Those incidents are going to happen much more in the future years, so we need to be ready for that, and therefore, we need that interconnectedness as soon as possible.”

He said the key challenges to getting the Atlantic Loop operational are political, and the EAC will put pressure on the province’s next premier to move the project forward.

Nova Scotia will also have to rely largely on the Muskrat Falls hydro megaproject, a controversial dam and powerhouse on Labrador’s lower Churchill River. Gurumurthy said Muskrat Falls is projected to take Nova Scotia to 60 per cent clean energy if it comes online and could be operational in 2022.

Residents and Indigenous people in the area have been vocal about their concerns and opposition to the project, but the economic damage and damage to Indigenous lands and rights has already been done, said Fitzgerald.

Sierra Club is recommending no new large hydro projects because they release mercury, kill fish and wildlife, harm nearby communities and damage the environment. The organization is staunchly opposed to the Gull Island hydroelectric project in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Fighting climate change now

After the province reviews all the feedback from consultations, it said it will share a report with the public.

Until then, the EAC and Sierra Club hope the information in their reports will help shape the coming provincial election and put a focus on climate action.

“The climate crisis isn't a thing of the future, it's now and it's frightening,” said Tynette Deveaux communications co-ordinator for Beyond Coal Atlantic, a specific campaign of the Sierra Club.

“We need to treat it like a crisis in a way that we treated COVID... When leaders accept that there's an emergency, and communicate that to the public, we can all step up and get to where we need to be. And we certainly need to get off greenhouse gas-emitting sources of electricity.”

Currently, Iain Rankin’s Nova Scotia Liberals have a nine-point lead over the Progressive Conservatives, according to a poll from Mainstreet research. It showed 24 per cent of voters in the province are undecided.

“The election period gives us a great chance to go out there, ask the questions around climate change, ask what they're doing as they come and knock on your doors,” said Mabiza. “Don't be afraid to ask, because we need to hold them accountable.”

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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