Nova Scotia Power plans to burn heavy fuel oil in coal-fired electricity generating units after they shut down in 2030.
The company intends to convert three coal-fired units at the Lingan generating station in Cape Breton to heavy fuel oil by 2030 and keep them running until 2050, according to documents submitted in its latest capital expenditure request.
The proposal, first reported by Allnovascotia.com, is drawing criticism from an environmental group and questions from regulators.
It sounded contradictory to Jennifer Nicholson, a member of the Nova Scotia Public Services and Review Board.
“Looking at some of these conversions, I have to say I was a bit surprised that we’re moving away from coal, but we’re going to be using heavy fuel oil. It doesn’t really look like, you know, it’s much cleaner.” Nicholson said at a recent hearing on Nova Scotia Power’s capital spending plan.
Nova Scotia Power COO Dave Pickles responded that the company is “obligated to be coal-free by 2030” under federal regulation.
“And only coal?” Nicholson asked.
“And only coal,” he said.
The plants would operate during peak demand
Pickles told the board that the emissions from coal and fuel oil are comparable, but the Lingan units would have “really low utilization rates.”
Nova Scotia Power said Lingan’s units using heavy oil would operate during peak demand periods, between five and 10 percent of the time, mainly during the coldest days of winter when power generation needs to ramp up rapidly.
Lingan is Nova Scotia Power’s largest power station. It is made up of four coal-fired units, each capable of generating 150 megawatts of electricity. The fourth unit is held in what Nova Scotia Power calls “cold standby,” meaning it can be restarted in an emergency.
“If it is fully phased out, we will need to generate replacement power at a much higher cost than transitioning to oil, because these facilities already have that capacity,” Pickles said.
“We may need to add additional tanks or we may need to bring it to full capacity with oil. But that transition is relatively easy and cost-effective.”
He said that switching to oil is “significantly cheaper” than replacing existing facilities with new electricity generation capacity.
Lack of ambition
Asked by Nicholson what would happen if the government decides to ban the use of heavy fuels, Pickles said: “We would have to add additional firm capacity to replace that lost generation, so [it] It could be natural gas, fast acting generation, some other form that could also require heavy fuel oil or light fuel oil given the limited nature of natural gas available here in the province.”
The Green Action Center, a Halifax-based environmental group, said Nova Scotia Power is demonstrating a lack of ambition when it comes to decarbonising.
“They’ve done a bit of a bait-and-switch in terms of getting around regulations that require them to phase out coal by 2030,” said climate policy coordinator Thomas Arnason McNeil.
He wants to know the cost of upgrading coal plants to run on heavy fuel oil and how much it will cost taxpayers.
“The idea that heavy fuel oil is the only energy source that can play that role, I’d like to see confirmed,” Arnason McNeil told Breaking: on Monday.
Nova Scotia Power declined to provide details on the potential cost of converting its Lingan units to heavy oil.
In a statement, company spokeswoman Jacqueline Foster said, “Natural gas and hydrogen may provide cleaner alternative fuel options for future fast-acting new generation at locations other than Lingan.
“We are exploring converting certain units to natural gas, where there is proximity to natural gas infrastructure.”
In response to questions submitted by the Nova Scotia Board of Review and Services on the utility’s capital plan case, Nova Scotia Power said the 154-megawatt coal-fired plant at Point Tupper in Richmond County it will be converted to natural gas in 2029 and will operate until 2049.
The 171-megawatt coal-fired plant at Point Aconi in Cape Breton will retire in 2029. The two coal-fired units in Trenton, with a combined capacity of 311-megawatts, will retire in 2028 and 2029.
Nova Scotia Power generates about 2,400 megawatts in total.