Understanding the true cost (and savings) of Nova Scotia’s transition to clean energy

For Nova Scotians, clean energy has been in the news a lot lately.

The province recently unveiled its plan for 50 per cent wind power by 2030 alongside additional solar. A week later, the federal government announced $12 million to help Nova Scotia with electricity grid upgrades. Over that same timeframe, the Atlantic Loop was seemingly abandoned and then resurrected and modified.

Meanwhile, a new report found that an East Coast offshore wind industry — common in Europe and Asia but still nascent in North America — could turn Atlantic Canada into an “energy superpower” similar to “what oil was to Texas or hydro power to Quebec.”

That’s a lot to take in over the course of one month, and it naturally raises questions for Nova Scotians wondering what this outright transformation of their energy system will not only look like but how it will affect them personally, especially at a time when every dollar counts.

While the transition to clean energy will hardly upend your lifestyle — clean electricity is still electricity, an electric vehicle is still just a car, and a more energy efficient house is still a place to call home — the way in which you pay for energy will change. Understanding this change is key to understanding the affordability benefits of clean energy.

Renewables are extremely cost-competitive (wind is already widely considered the lowest-cost source of electricity in Nova Scotia) but we’re going to need a lot more power as we transition our homes, vehicles and businesses off fossil fuels.

There’s a cost to building new electricity generation to meet this demand, but the savings will be greater. Think of it this way: adding $40 to your monthly electricity bill to power your car is cheaper than whatever you were paying to fill it with gasoline.

Canadian and international studies have shown that the transition to clean energy will make energy more affordable for families. New research from Clean Energy Canada, meanwhile, found that families that choose clean energy solutions (like EVs and heat pumps) over less efficient ones (like gas cars, natural gas heating and air conditioning) significantly lower their energy costs.

We recently ran this analysis for Nova Scotia, where a suburban family that ditches fossil fuels entirely in favour of clean energy alternatives can save $940 a month. Even a family that goes halfway — swapping one of two cars for an EV and getting a heat pump but keeping their gas furnace as a backup — can pocket an extra $554 each month. Both scenarios include equipment costs in the monthly bill.

If that sounds too good to be true, consider the high, volatile costs of gasoline compared to the predictable costs of electricity. Consider how much more expensive gas car sticker prices have gotten over the past few years (let alone gas prices), in many cases almost catching up with comparable EVs.

Or consider the role that governments have played and should continue playing. The federal government provides $5,000 off the purchase price of eligible EVs, while the Province of Nova Scotia offers drivers an additional $3,000.

The feds also have heat pump and clean energy home upgrade programs, the amounts for which were increased last week when the government announced a carbon price pause on oil heating. These programs effectively make heat pumps free for low-income families in Atlantic Canada switching from oil, and a really good deal for everyone else. Households that swap oil heating for cold-climate heat pumps typically save up to $2,500 annually on their energy bills.

The rapid transformation of Nova Scotia’s electricity system from climate change-causing coal power to renewables like wind and solar may sound drastic, and it’s only natural to worry about the bill. But with all the pieces in place, the clean energy transition truly is more affordable for everyone.

It’s on our elected officials to show Nova Scotians and all Canadians the way forward by helping them make the switch.

This post is co-authored by Mark Zacharias and originally appeared in Saltwire.

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