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Carbon pricing good idea complicated by rising energy costs: Nova Scotia advocate

Brian Gifford, chair of the Affordable Energy Coalition of Nova Scotia, poses in this undated handout photo. Brian Gifford, chair of the Affordable Energy Coalition of Nova Scotia, says the imposition of consumer carbon pricing in his province is a good idea, but says rising energy costs continue to pose problems for people with lower incomes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Brian Gifford

HALIFAX — An affordable energy advocate says the imposition of consumer carbon pricing in Nova Scotia is a good idea, but adds that rising energy costs continue to pose problems for people with lower incomes.

Brian Gifford, chair of the Affordable Energy Coalition of Nova Scotia, believes most people will be helped by the federal government’s plan to provide quarterly rebates to offset carbon pricing costs, beginning in July.

The rebates will see households in Nova Scotia get $248 with every payment, while those in the other two provinces where carbon pricing was imposed on Tuesday — Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island — will see rebates of $328 and $240 respectively.

But Gifford said even more help will likely be needed.

“In this time of high oil prices, especially, and rising electricity rates, there is still going to be a problem for people,” Gifford said in an interview Wednesday.

The carbon price is expected to add an initial 17.4 cents per litre to the cost of heating oil.

Gifford said a $250-million federal grant announced Monday that was meant as another offset to help people switch from home heating oil to electric heat pumps will also help, but only marginally. The money is in addition to an envelope of $250 million over four years that was announced by federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault in September to assist people with home heating costs.

“It (the grant) doesn’t work for lower-income households because they can’t pay their share of the costs,” said Gifford, who added that a grant of up to $5,000 is not enough on its own to switch to a heat pump.

“Our own home was converted for about $12,000 and this about seven years ago,” he said. “It (the grant) needs more money per household. The cap is too low.” 

About 30 per cent of homes in Atlantic Canada use oil for heating, including nearly half of Nova Scotia’s 400,000 households.

With the amount of money potentially available, Gifford believes only a small portion of those homes will actually get the help they need to convert their heating systems. He said the funding needs to be synchronized with existing provincial programs to be more effective.

Still, Gifford was careful not to criticize carbon pricing. “The carbon tax is not the problem," he said. "Fossil fuels are the problem."

Increasing demand for heat pumps is also a potential complication, said John Devereaux of Ground Hog Geothermal and Heat Pump Ltd., which serves customers in the Annapolis Valley and Halifax Regional Municipality.

Devereaux said the phone at his business has been “rung off the hook” with recent demand. He said there’s currently a six-month waiting list for service.

The popularity of heat pumps "has been rising over time," he said, "but this year specifically has been super busy, and a lot of that is credited to the cost of oil."

Devereaux said there is also a lack of technicians available to install heat pump systems. He said about a dozen companies in the province are actively trying to hire qualified workers. Ground Hog has 10 technicians, and Devereaux said he could easily put “another four to work no problem.”

“There’s been a shortfall for a while,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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