Get Specifics On Air Issues
The low key approach to dirty air has served its time in Nova Scotia
The Issue: Give The Public A Power Plant Plan
Cape Breton Post Editorial
Thurs., Sept. 25, 2003
Some residents of the Point Aconi area recently have criticized
Nova Scotia Power Inc. for its silence on the idea of
burning tar ponds sludge in its fluidized-bed power generating
station there. It's easy to see why the company would
not want to become embroiled in a controversy not of its making,
especially over something so hypothetical. Besides, the brains at
the Head Office had to have seen the likelihood of what in fact has happened:
the sludge burning idea appears to have been firmly
scotched by local uprising.
But, in addition to all this, we are reminded this week of another
reason that NSPI has been happy to lie low. The power company
allowing itself to get drawn into the sludge burning question could
call unwanted attention to what NSPI is putting up the stacks now
in Cape Breton.
An Ontario-based environmental coalition under the umbrella
Pollution Watch, using public information, has compiled a list of
Nova Scotia's top 10 air polluters. NSPI power plants occupy the
top four spots (Lingan, Trenton, Point Tupper and Point Aconi in
that order) and hold five places in total (Tuft's Cove sneaks in at
According to the compilation, the 600 megawatt coal-fired behemoth
at Lingan that produces a quarter of the province's electricity
also spewed nearly two million kilograms of air pollutants in
2001, accounting for nearly 43 per cent of Nova Scotia's air pollution
from industrial sources. Point Tupper and Point Aconi contributed
about 10 per cent each.
(Among Cape Breton installations, the Stora Enso pulp and
paper mill at Point Tupper also made the list at No. 9, accounting
for 1.3 per cent of the province's total with emissions of 59,822 kg.
One other paperniaker in the top 10, Kimberly-Clark, ranked No. 5
with 315,540 kg of emissions, more than five times Stora Enso's
amount and neably seven per cent of the provincial total.)
In addition to huge amounts of greenhouse gases, whose contribution
to global warming is still controversial, power plant
emissions include acids that seed the clouds for acid rain as well as
toxic heavy metals such as mercury and other chemicals deemed
harmfull to the environment or human health. If you want to know
what goes up power plant stacks in Cape Breton, think first about
what goes in; a spokesman for technical people associated with the
tar ponds cleanup tells us we need think no further than sludge.
Parker Donham, spokesman for Sydney Tar Ponds Agency
expressed disappointment earlier this month that local opposition,
immune to the persuasions of tar ponds experts, closed off one
option "that would enable us to burn the material without creating
additional air emissions because we would be displacing a
tonne of coal for every tonne of tar ponds material that we burned.
Chemically, the materials are very, very similar and the experts
assure us that they would produce virtually identical emissions."
So if the people of Point Aconi were alarmed at the prospect of
Sydney tar ponds sludge being burned in that plant, why aren't
they and indeed people living in the vicinity of any coal or oil-fired
generator in the province - in a permanent state of alarm?
The disconnect is part of the quirky dynamics that play into
public risk perception.
From NSPI's point of view, there's always a danger in stirring
this pot. The power company - aided, it seems, by government
agencies - has done a remarkable job of keeping the air pollution
issue low key. When Cape Breton's coal industry was still alive,
unions, politicians and communities were part of the discreet conspiracy,
just as few were really much interested in Sydney's industrial
pollution until the steel industry was toppling into its grave.
However, NSPI and the Nova Scotia government have gotten by
long enough with vague, incomplete and non-specific answers to
the power plant emissions question. The public needs to see a comprehensive
plan and timetable on power plant emissions, which
should also include a rationale for the targets, pacing and cost of
improved management at the smokestack.