Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nova Scotia Natural Gas Prices Hit 6 Year High

The December prices for Heritage Gas customers were announced today.  The news was not good.  The cost for residential customers in NS is the highest it has been in almost 6 years. Essentially the highest prices since Heritage Gas started in Nova Scotia. Residential Customers will now pay a total of $19.88/GJ.

In Nova Scotia, prices for Natural Gas are a combination of two numbers.

The Base Energy Charge cost is a representation of the cost to install and maintain the Natural Gas infrastructure and pipelines. This figure is set annually by the UARB.

The Gas Cost Recovery Rate is a straight pass-through of the commodity cost of Natural Gas.  This price corresponds to the market cost for Natural Gas in New England.

The current Base Energy Charge (for 2012) is $7.982/GJ and the December Gas Recover Rate is now $11.99/GJ ($7.982 + $11.99 = $19.88).  The December rate is almost twice the November rate of $6.17/GJ.

While Natural Gas prices fluctuate throughout the year, and are traditionally highest in the winter months, there are two main reasons for prices being the highest in 6 years.

First, demand is increasing.  There are many reasons for this, which include the historically low prices of natural gas in the past few years, and short term availability of other sources such as nuclear and oil due to events such as Hurricane Sandy.

Second, there have been supply issues with production at Sable and delays with Deep Panuke.  In late November, this led to what I believe is a first: the Maritimes Northeast Pipeline which connects Nova Scotia to the North American Natural Gas Grid was reversed to import gas to NS rather than export.  ( – November 30, 2012 – “Absent Panuke, Expect more Gas Price Spikes”)

Demand going up + supply going down = Prices Increasing

The bad news for Heritage Gas customers is that November is only the start of the peak season, and 2013 will bring further increases in the Base Energy Charge in addition expected increases in the Gas Recovery Rate.

The bad news for all Nova Scotians is that the biggest Natural Gas consumer in the province is Nova Scotia Power.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Canada's Kyoto Withdrawal May Trigger EU Tariffs

A majority of Canadians are disgusted today by the fact that our government has pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.  Canada was one of the first countries to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, and now as the distinction of being the first to formally back away from its commitments. 

There is much outrage and finger pointing between our political parties about whose fault it is that we have come to this point.  Frankly, I think all political parties bare some of the blame, but most importantly so does every Canadian, regardless for whom you voted. 

While it was briefly mentioned on CBC’s The National tonight, there has been very little coverage about what this could mean for Canada economically, especially regarding international trade.  There is a very real chance that tariffs could be applied Canadian products in the near future because we are no longer part of a climate pact or emissions trading scheme.

I remember first thinking that Canada might be threatened with tariffs because of our lack of climate policy when President Obama was elected.  It seemed that the US was going to adopt hard emissions targets and, through the workings of NAFTA, Canada would therefore be forced to follow suit.

More recently, we can see who is a far more likely candidate to impose the first carbon tariff on Canadian products: The European Union.  In fact, the EU is already considering applying a tariff on Canadian produced fuels because of its higher carbon content. ( Canada Fights Fuel Standards - Gazette ).  The Canadian and Albertan governments are desperately fighting this dangerous precedent, but I would imagine that Europe of all places right now is not likely to do Canada any favours. 

While Canada has done very little over the 15 years since it first signed on to Kyoto, countries and businesses in the EU have been working hard to reduce their emissions continuously.  With budget cuts and austerity measures becoming the standard in European financial policy, it is only a matter of time before Europeans demand that countries not sharing the burden to reduce global emissions be penalized before entering their economy. 

This means that even though Canada is avoiding $Billions in fines for non-compliance in Kyoto by withdrawing, we could be facing a much steeper economic hurdle from international tariffs.  The now 190 Kyoto Countries will not stand by and give unfettered access to their economies to countries and companies that are not accounting for their carbon emissions. 

There are far more important reasons for Canada not to pull out of Kyoto, however it may be the repercussions for international trade that will first show how irresponsibly Canada is acting regarding climate change. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Solar Quiz: In which month do solar hot water systems harness the most energy?

As we reach the end of August and finally have some nice weather to enjoy in Nova Scotia, it is easy to assume this time of year has the most solar energy potential.   Sunny days are more frequent and the days are still longer than average. 

However, the answer isn’t as obvious as you may think!

While PV energy generation potential is directly proportionate to solar radiation, solar thermal energy potential also depends on the starting temperature of the cold water it is heating.  Colder starting temperatures allow for more energy to be transferred as well as the efficiency of that transfer to be more efficient (due to higher deltaT).

So far in 2011, many of the solar hot water systems installed by the team at Doctor Solar have harnessed most energy in the month of March.

While there are many variables that could contribute to this variance, the most likely cause is the temperature the cold water supply.  The amount energy harnessed is calculated by the difference between temperature of solar pre-heated water and the original temperature of the cold water supply (the status quo).  In March the cold water supply averages close to 5C, while in August it averages 21C.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Everything Old Is New Again

It seems that everything old is new again...

I started this blog back in 2007 shortly after Scotian WindFIelds Inc (SWFI) was formed. After existing on its own for a while on Blogspot, Renewable Times moved over to the SWFI website where it was updated (occasionally) for the last few years.

This week will see the launch of a new SWFI website. The folks that know a lot more about this stuff than I tell me that I should move back to the stand alone Blogspot page, so here we are.

Those of you who were on the original mailing list will start getting emails again, because it seems the feed distribution is still intact, and you all likely received an email from an old post earlier in August.

I’ve imported a few old blog posts that still seem relevant, so they won’t be lost in the website change over.

Things are certainly interesting these days in the renewable energy industry in Nova Scotia. Renewable energy is at the cusp of becoming mainstream in many ways. It is now a significant contributor to our electricity grid (~20%), there are important policies being developed at municipal and provincial levels, and residents, businesses and institutions are all starting to look to renewable energy to lower their operating costs.

That all means that there is plenty to blog about…. I’m already working on a few posts, but in the meantime, as of early this week, make sure to check out the new SWFI website at

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bullfrog "Powered" or Bullfrog "Offset"

These signs are popping up more and more. Businesses, residents and events are attempting to have a greener image bysigning a contract with Bullfrog Power. According to the Bullfrog website, Nova Scotian consumers can “green” their electricity for 2cents/kWh, a roughly 16% premium.

Bullfrog came to Nova Scotia a few years ago after establishing itself as a very successful green electricity retailer. In markets such as Ontario and Alberta, electricity is produced, distributed and sold by separate parties in an open market. This allows consumers to choose from whom they buy their electricity. In Nova Scotia, we have no such option. Nova Scotia Power produces, transmits and retails over 98% of our electricity. Love it or hate it, we have no choice (unless you live in one of the 5/6 small municipal utilities, where you still have no choice, it is just not NS Power).

So, this begs the question: If Nova Scotia Power produces and sells all of our electricity, how can Bullfrog Power sell green electricity to consumers that are looking to make a difference? The answer is simple: they can’t.

What actually takes place when a consumer signs up with Bullfrog Power in Nova Scotia is that they are sold Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). RECs are produced when “green” electricity is sold in two parts – physical energy and the environmental attributes. The main reason that this is done is that in open electricity markets, physical energy and the environmental attributes are priced separately. It is somewhat similar, but not has popular or as well regulated as a carbon credit.

So, when Nova Scotia consumers sign up with Bullfrog they purchase enough RECs to offset their traditional consumption from Nova Scotia Power. This is perfectly legitimate, and ultimately a good thing. The problem is that very few Bullfrog customers understand the difference between purchasing physical energy and purchasing offsets. And Bullfrog doesn’t help increase their understanding.

I’ve thought about this issue a lot, and I’ve determined this misconception comes down to the use of the word “powered”. All Bullfrog customers get well-branded logos claiming that their home, business or event is “Bullfrog Powered”. The term “powered” implies a physical transfer of energy. In Nova Scotia, this isn’t true. The source of electricity for the consumer, and even Nova Scotia as a whole, remains unchanged. While I’m sure Bullfrog’s contracts and legalese are all completely accurate, the use of the word “powered” is misleading.

Bullfrog “Offset” would be far more accurate for their Nova Scotia customers.

This is a complicated issue, so an example might help explain it better. Airline passengers often have the chance to offset their greenhouse gas emissions associated with their flight. Carbon Credits are produced by projects such as tree planting, methane capture and renewable energy, then used to offset the emissions from burning fossil fuels to power the plane. This is very similar to what Bullfrog does in Nova Scotia. By no means could the airline claim that no emissions are coming out of their plane, they are simply being offset by a project somewhere else in the world.

Bullfrog purchases its RECs from a wind farm in PEI (which is not connected to Nova Scotia), that sells electricity into New England through New Brunswick. You’ll often hear that green electricity is injected into the “regional grid” but they fail to tell you that that electricity is then exported. To my knowledge, Bullfrog has no agreement to transfer energy into the Nova Scotia grid.

Recently, I heard a Bullfrog customer claim that green electricity was injected into the “Halifax Grid”, which couldn’t be further from the truth, and ultimately inspired me to write all this down for the record.

So, while offsetting your electricity is a good thing to do, next time you see something claiming to be powered by green electricity in Nova Scotia, unless they produce green energy onsite, tell them they should know better.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why Scotian WindFields doesn't do micro-wind

Scotian WindFields Inc started as a wind farm developer. Since that time we have expanded in to individual utility scale turbines, on site commercial turbines along with expanding into solar energy. We get asked all the time about micro wind turbines, roof mounted, vertical axis, and other tiny turbines, and this weekend’s Atlantic Eco Expo was no different.

But Scotian WindFields doesn’t install micro turbines. The smallest turbine we install is

the 5kW Endurance wind turbine. The reason for this is simple: as turbines get smaller, they get less effective.

Earlier this week one of my favorite website, The Oil Drum, published a great piece about two different studies of micro wind turbines.

I’ll let the article make the rest of the argument:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Believe the Facts, not the Fossil Fuel Industry

In a recent blog post, it was discussed that there is a common misconception that wind energy doesn’t actually reduce GHG emissions. Ultimately, I think this misconception is based on the fact that the wind doesn’t blow all the time, but in reality, there is very little evidence to back up these claims.

In the previously mentioned blog post (found HERE ), Bruce Wark, of The Coast , questioned if wind energy was even green at all. I’m not sure what helped form his misguided opinion, but it may have come from the millions of dollars the fossil fuel industry is spending to convince people that wind energy doesn’t reduce emissions.

Michael Goggin of the American Wind Energy Association recently posted a detailed and well referenced article disputing these claims and providing proof that wind energy reduces even more energy than might be anticipated.

That article can be found HERE

Within 6 months or so, Nova Scotia will have a number of new wind farms online. The Dalhousie Mountain wind farm came online earlier this year, and the Digby Wind Power Project, Nutby Mountain and Point Tupper Projects will all be online before the end of the year, while Shear Wind’s Glen Dhu will be online shortly after that. Based on the evidence put forth in the attached argument, Nova Scotia can look forward to real emissions reductions from these facilities, even more than we might have originally imagined.