Jumping into ACTion

Jumping into ACTion

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story | Contributors: Pam Sullivan | Published: November 7, 2023

As much as 2030 may sound like a far-off futuristic date from a sci-fi novel, the reality is much closer: a mere six years away, and with it, thankfully, some impressive plans for action on curtailing carbon emissions.

Halifax's Manager of Community Energy, Kevin Boutilier, says that public feedback indicated an increasing sense of urgency around the need for more immediate action around climate change.

“From now to 2030 is where a ton of action needs to be completed, so the crucial work is really within the next six and a half years,” he says.

HalifACT is the municipality’s climate action plan, which has the goal of reaching net zero municipal operations by 2030, community emissions reduction of 75 per cent over 2016 levels by 2030, and fully net-zero across the board by 2050.

The plan itself, he says, was the result of a collaboration of over 250 internal and external stakeholders from all levels of government, utilities, non-profits, and advocacy groups, academics and educators, industry, the Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities, Acadian groups, youth, and more.

With approximately 50 per cent of provincial emissions coming from the municipality, collaboration with the province is key, says Boutilier. A 2021 administrative order now mandates that all municipal corporate buildings have to meet a net zero standard but does not automatically apply across the municipality. That, he says, is where the province comes in.

“When you look at the big buckets of emissions in HRM, as a community and municipally as well, buildings are the biggest source of emissions,” he says. “It’s easy to mandate stronger regulations on ourselves, but we’re hoping we can work with the province to gain authority to mandate stronger building codes within the municipality itself, so that public or private buildings are built to move to a net zero standard as well. That’s what we’re currently working on.”

In addition to a focus on new builds, encouraging deep energy retrofits of existing households and buildings is another area of focus where there’s crossover and agreement between both the city and the province’s energy efficiency utility, Efficiency Nova Scotia (ENS), with a focus on reducing our carbon footprint through efficiencies; the cheapest way to purchase electrical capactiy, says ENS Business Development Manager, George Solomon.

Solomon, who works with organizations to identify efficiency opportunities, says ENS is very much about the carrot vs. the stick approach in helping developers and building owners see the benefits of becoming more energy efficient.

“If you use a storage space analogy, then instead of spending on costly additions, you are better off optimizing the space you already have,” Solomon says. “So that’s one of the reasons why our program has been so successful, and so resilient over time. It's because it’s significantly cheaper to buy capacity through efficiency; doing the same thing but using a lot less energy.”

Retrofits include, among other things, making the move from oil heating to heat pumps and electric hot water heaters, installing solar panels, improved insulation, lighting, and windows and doors. The utility also offers energy assessments, with rebate incentives and financing options.

Returning to Solomon’s storage space analogy, part of the march to net zero, and very much on the mind of consumers, government, and business is the future of electric vehicles (EVs) here in Halifax and around the province.

Part of a team responsible for working at promoting the installation of EV chargers in new buildings, Solomon says the key to getting buy-in is in identifying barriers and responding accordingly.

“It's a new market with an emerging technology and there’s a lot of novelty and complexity that we have to deal with,” he says. “It’s dynamic and it’s an unknown.”

Unlike installing an EV charger in a home, complications arise for developers who say they just aren’t seeing that demand from the market, says Solomon. In Addition are the complications around power supply when you’re talking about capacity.

“A MURB building is essentially a collection of small homes, and the people who design these buildings aren’t designing in endless capacity when they build the electrical infrastructure,” he says.

As with most things in life, the devil is often in the details. Such is the case for the installation of an EV infrastructure — a crucial part of moving the bar closer to that net-zero target. Solomon, when working with developers and building owners, builds the case that not making those necessary changes now may mean more money and hassle down the road, as EVs become more mainstream.

Solomon and his team are currently analyzing responses from 1200 apartment and condo dwellers, to be able to, as he calls it, “to develop that demand signal” the building owners and developers say they’re not seeing. Through this work, he says, ENS will be able to help businesses move now to avoid a tipping point where contractors and consultants will be heavily booked, chargers will have extended lead times, and NSP will be inundated with capacity requests, thus stifling progress for months, if not years.

For the municipality, transportation, says Boutilier, is the next big piece of the puzzle, representing approximately 20 per cent of current emissions. The city, he says, has an electric vehicle strategy, with four pillars of action, one of which is public charging infrastructure; something most EV owners would likely agree is sorely lacking at the moment.

“People who are looking to transition to an electric vehicle, if they don’t see the “gas stations” out there, understandably have range anxiety and worry about getting to their destination,” he says. “And that charging infrastructure here in Nova Scotia is quite lacking.”

In response, Halifax, much like many cities across the country, is not waiting on their provincial counterparts to pick up the climate change baton and run with it, instead choosing to act now, with Council having recently approved funding for the development and installation of public charging infrastructure across the municipality.

“We’re working with a consultant and have identified up to 12 sites across the municipality,” Boutilier says. “We’re looking at sites that we own, so community centers or parks, or fire stations, as an example, that are in dense areas.”

The fast or level 3 chargers, says Boutilier, which he hopes to see installed next spring, should be able to give an 80 per cent charge in 20-30 minutes for about $15-20. And returning to the challenge of how to incentivize and better serve apartment dwellers — an ever-increasing part of our population as we see building after building going up — is a plan to install level 2 charging stations at community centers for overnight charging, as well as an on-street pilot, also for overnight charging. Additionally, says Boutilier, new construction in the municipality will be mandated to include EV charging stations.

Cheering HRM efforts from the sidelines is Ecology Action Centre’s (ECA) Policy Coordinator, Sustainable Transportation, Thomas Arnason McNeil.

“I think HRM, in particular, has shown a lot of initiative with its electric vehicle strategy, quite frankly,” Arnason McNeil says. “I think it represents a drive to really pick up some of the slack in terms of building out that infrastructure.”

As laid out in The Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act, the province plans for 80 per cent of Nova Scotia’s energy to be supplied by renewable energy by 2030, and more specifically, as it relates to EVs, a goal of 30 per cent of vehicle sales by 2030 to be zero-emission vehicles.

Good targets, closely aligned with those of HRM, but, as Arnason McNeil points out, difficult to realize unless someone steps up to install infrastructure in a “if you build it, they will come,” move. Impressed by the city’s innovative approach to getting things done, he points specifically to their determination to work with the province’s Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing to work out a solution.

“The HRM staff have been really ambitious,” he says. “They went to that department and got confirmation of their legal authority to build out this charging infrastructure, and they started to build it out. And it’s not the easiest thing to do.”

At the moment, the main issue around the lack of movement or interest in building or properly maintaining charging infrastructure, says Arnason McNeil, is the lack of profitability. Like many things, it’s a numbers game, and the numbers simply don’t add up.

“If you’re a private company that builds EV charging infrastructure, right now it’s difficult for you to turn a profit — as it relates to fast chargers,” he says. “Basically, the free market is not going to solve this problem, at least not right now. It’s got to be spearheaded by government and/or Nova Scotia Power.”

Another challenge in EV adoption, Arnason McNeil tell me, is at the manufacturing level, where manufacturers favour larger markets, like those in Quebec and British Columbia, where demand is obviously stronger, but where mandated legislation has been implemented to ensure that a certain number of electric vehicles are sold. Nova Scotia, he says, has that legislation on the books, but not yet actively implemented; all of which results in longer wait times and frustrated consumers.

In terms of availability, David MacConnachie, O’Regans Vice-President, New Vehicle Sales, says that EV sales currently represent just under 10 per cent of their vehicle sales, and that waits can be upwards of three years depending upon the model.

“If you look at some provinces, with their own set of mandates, like Quebec or BC, along with some larger markets, the supply of EVs to Nova Scotia has been lagging well behind,” he says.

MacConnachie sees the best approach going forward as a multi-pronged one, focusing not only on full EVs, but on hybrids and plug-in hybrids; to get more gas-powered vehicles off the road and a more emission-friendly mix on.

“To most quickly reduce emissions, we should be offering them all, so that there’s a wide variety of affordable high-quality options, which is more our approach corporately, he says.

Echoing not only Arnason McNeil’s comments around the lack of mandated legislation, but also the lack of fast-charging infrastructure — lower “per vehicle than leading Canadian provinces,” he’s nonetheless hopeful we’re heading in the right direction, while being realistic about the speed of transition.

“We fully intend to embrace it and be well-positioned with people and facilities," he says. “It’s a big part of our business that we’re excited about, but we also realize the traditional gas vehicle is a long way from extinction.”

Balancing out that cold dose of reality is Boutilier — a self-described “realistic optimist." And as elusive as even that sentiment may be for some people — given how hard we’ve been hit these last few months — a hopeful attitude paired with a drive to work together, and some truly good people, like Boutilier, at the helm, is ultimately our best way forward.

“We all have really strong climate anxiety, but the fact that we’re able to do meaningful work to help support the community, you know that keeps me coming back every day.”

< Back to Articles | Topics: Cover story

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