By Janet Plume

With 392 Megawatts of wind energy capacity installed as of June, Nova Scotia has more wind energy than any other Maritime province. This lead has been taken at the behest of the provincial government, which in 2010 passed a law requiring utilities to supply 25 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by the end of this year. The Community Feed-in Tariff, known as COMFIT, provided community-based, local renewable energy projects a guaranteed rate per kilowatt-hour for the energy they feed into the Nova Scotia’s distribution electrical grid. Additionally, the government set a target date of 2020 to achieve 40 per cent renewable electricity.

Launching the program to help the province meet those targets, COMFIT supported small-scale producers – typically those of less than 6MW in size – that had little chance of competing against larger developers. One example of this type of project is the Colchester-Cumberland Wind field, which is owned by several hundred residents near Tatamagouche. The four-turbine project will pay its first dividends to shareholders in January 2016.

Bruce Cameron, Executive Director of Sustainable and Renewable Energy for Nova Scotia’s provincial government, said the COMFIT program exceeded expectations, placing more than 80 MW of energy into production, with another 125 MW scheduled to move into the grid by year’s end. The bulk of that production comes from wind, he said.

But when officials compared the COMFIT plan to competitive bidding and cost-of-service projects owned by utilities, COMFIT was found to be substantially more expensive, sometimes nearly twice the cost per kilowatt-hour. Last month, Nova Scotia ended COMFIT amid worries that the support programs were pushing up electricity prices, although the province continued to proclaim its success in persuading individuals to invest in small-scale community projects.

Government officials emphasized the subsidy programs were intended to kick-start renewable projects and accomplished as much. The jury is still out as to whether these subsidized programs can be tied to higher electricity prices paid by consumers. Critics argue small wind projects are less able to keep costs down than industrial-scale projects. Proponents claim rising electricity prices in most jurisdictions have little to do with subsidies for green energy.

In Nova Scotia, government officials insist they can still reach the 40 per cent goal of renewable power by 2020 without COMFIT, thanks to a decision to import power from the hydroelectric dam being built by Nalcor Energy at Muskrat Falls in Labrador. The dam is scheduled for completion by 2018. “This is the right time to bring COMFIT to a close; it has achieved its objectives,” Michel Samson, Energy Minister for the province said in a statement. “We are now at a point where the program could begin to have a negative impact on power rates.”

Elsewhere, in Ontario, the provincial government has maintained a feed-in tariff subsidy for smaller renewable projects, and eliminated it for larger projects.