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Our Laws & Climate Action

Are our laws getting in the way of climate action?

These reports, “A Comparative Analysis of Select Legislated Electricity Regimes in Eastern Canada and the New England Region” and A Comparative Analysis of the Legislated Electricity Regimes in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were prepared by East Coast Environmental Law (ECEL) staff lawyer Tina Northrup on behalf of the Ecology Action Centre and The Conservation Council of New Brunswick. The report focuses on the legal barriers that need to be addressed to protect the public interest by enabling affordable, reliable, sustainable electricity pathways in Atlantic Canada.

These are the first reports in the Atlantic Vision for Clean Electricity 2020-2021 series.

What did the reports reveal?

ECEL summarizes the legal and regulatory rules structuring utility decision-making and identifies opportunities for reform to eliminate polluting sources of electricity in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. ECEL then looks at how New Brunswick and Nova Scotia compare to other Atlantic provinces and Vermont and Massachusetts in the United States.

ECEL finds that the public interest is narrowly defined by New Brunswick and Nova Scotia legislation and regulations to focus only on financial costs to utilities and ratepayers. Government rules fail to consider environmental and social dimensions. This narrow understanding of the public interest poses barriers to securing the best outcomes for low-income households and our health through clean electricity portfolios.

Currently, our laws and regulations in Atlantic Canada are getting in the way [of protecting the public interest], with no requirement to take sustainability principles into account when making important decisions about our electricity future. We can learn from our neighbours, like Quebec and Vermont who both include sustainability and equity more directly in the way they make electricity decisions.

A Comparative Analysis of Select Legislated Electricity Regimes in Eastern Canada and the New England Region Tweet

Key Findings

  1. We need to do better for low-income households. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia do not require that the interests of low-income customers be considered  when power rates are being set or approved. 
  2. Vermont empowers the electricity regulator to approve rate schedules, tariffs, agreements, contracts, or settlements that provide reduced rates for low-income customers. Massachusetts is even stronger as it actually requires the regulator to ensure that electric distribution companies provide discounted rates for eligible low-income customers.
  3. Prioritizing non-polluting sources of electricity also benefits affordability through avoiding pollution charges like carbon taxes.
  1. Extreme weather events are becoming more common as climate change worsens. We need to keep our households and businesses safer in extreme events by making electricity systems more resilient and reliable. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are comparable to those in Québec, Massachusetts, and Vermont as all five jurisdictions employ enforceable reliability standards developed by the North American Reliability Electric Corporation (the “NERC”).
  2. With respect to additional performance, service, or reliability standards, Nova Scotia and Massachusetts alone have established laws that require such additional standards. Nova Scotia requires service and performance standards addressing reliability, adverse weather response, and customer service; Massachusetts requires performance standards for emergency preparation and service restoration. Of the two, Nova Scotia appears to offer the most robust standard-setting regime.
  • both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia could look to Massachusetts as a model for rate accommodations for low-income ratepayers;
  • New Brunswick could look to Nova Scotia as a model for using ratepayer funds to pay for cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation programs and initiatives designed to benefit low-income ratepayers;
  • New Brunswick could look to Nova Scotia and Massachusetts as models for improved standards regimes;
  • both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia could look to Québec for an example of a regulator mandate that expressly includes sustainability and equity concerns;
  • both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia could look to Vermont for a model of more progressively empowered public-interest advocacy in regulatory proceedings; and,
  • both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia could look to Massachusetts and Vermont for models of regimes that require increasingly ambitious renewable electricity requirements beyond 2020.

Join us in demanding a clean, modern electricity system for New Brunswick.

About the Atlantic Vision for Clean Electricity

Solving climate change requires deep social change, including an expanded reliance on non-polluting electricity to power our lives. The key to this transition is ensuring that our modernized and sustainable electricity system is affordable and reliable.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick and the Ecology Action Centre are excited to launch the Atlantic Vision series of reports, webinars and research to show that affordable, reliable, sustainable electricity is possible in our region, right now. Cleaner electricity can help make us safer, more secure and healthier. We can use it to help make electricity affordable for everyone, reliable for when we need it, and cleaner for our health and for our planet.

The Atlantic Vision series is focused on the transition to electricity portfolios that phase out coal-fired electricity and ensures our regional electricity system is 90 per cent emissions free before 2030 as required by federal regulation and climate change policy. As a key part of the Just and Green Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, clean electricity can build green careers, bring health and economic benefits to communities and help us emerge from the pandemic better off than when we began.

Our definition of cleaner electricity has two components. First, cleaner electricity relies primarily on non-polluting sources like wind, solar and hydro technologies and it is used efficiently. These renewable technologies have lower environmental impact than electricity generated from coal, oil and natural gas that generate greenhouse gases when burned causing the global heating that is supercharging our weather. Second, our sustainable electricity portfolio needs to be affordable and reliable.

We know that cleaner electricity is affordable, reliable and sustainable – and it’s ready to be deployed right now. The major barriers keeping us from achieving the clean electricity system we deserve are the outdated laws, rules and targets in our region. We need to come together to update the laws that control how we plan for future electricity systems, in order to ensure a safer, more secure and healthier future with clean electricity.

We need to avoid the risks, mistakes and delays that come with continued coal burning, more nuclear energy, and dependence on fossil fuels.

 

We need to build electricity connections to allow renewable energy like wind and solar to be reliable at all times of year, by backing it up with existing hydroelectric capacity, storage technologies, and collaboration with our neighbours.

Download the letter from CCNB:

To learn more about how our electricity and energy use changes the climate and what New Brunswickers are doing about it, visit this link.

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