Tackling the climate emergency necessitates taking immediate action to phase out the use of fossil fuels and reduce emissions from the energy sector. Together with improving energy efficiency, increasing our generation of wind power is a critical component of reducing Nova Scotia’s emissions from electricity. With Nova Scotia’s unique offshore wind resources, offshore wind energy – if developed in ways which minimize environmental impacts and benefit coastal, rural and Mi’kmaw communities near developments – can be a key part of that contribution.
Addressing the climate emergency requires everyone to take action. This includes a general acceptance that we will need to build new wind turbines in our province – likely both onshore and offshore. However, new ways of generating electricity must not perpetuate old practices that have created so much inequity in our communities and landed us in the climate and biodiversity crises we find ourselves in today. Offshore wind is no exception. Offshore wind energy should be developed as a shared electricity resource for Nova Scotians first, and could enable us to think about the potential for expanding interregional energy transmission with our neighbours. These direct uses for electricity should be considered before using offshore wind to produce hydrogen – whether to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors or to exploit hydrogen for export markets benefiting large corporations. Offshore wind proposals should provide genuine and ongoing benefit to First Nations, nearby communities, fishers and other users of marine space and minimize damaging marine ecosystems.
To achieve these goals, Nova Scotia needs adopt a holistic approach to wind development. This means before any project is approved offshore, federal and provincial governments should ensure communities are meaningfully consulted on siting and engaged in community benefit agreements. Studies conducted in advance of offshore wind development should be in collaboration with coastal and fishing communities, offering opportunities for fishers and other users of the area to benefit economically from data collection processes. Impacts on sensitive ecosystems and active fishing grounds should be minimized as much as possible. Free, prior and informed consent must be obtained by local Mi’kmaw communities, and models of community ownership should be prioritized over corporate wind development.
Overall, the Ecology Action Centre’s support for offshore wind power generation is conditional. Despite the numerous benefits of wind power generation, if offshore wind developments are built in the wrong places they can perpetuate ecological degradation, environmental racism and harmful industrial practices. We support wind generation under the following conditions:
Comprehensive strategic environmental assessment processes are conducted, including the spatial mapping of important values like ecological connectivity, species at risk, the protection of commercial fish habitat, the protection of marine soundscapes supporting fish and marine mammals, the protection of migratory seabird routes, etc.
Users of the marine space are meaningfully involved in development proposals, including rightsholders, fishers, ecotourism companies and cultural users.
Wind farms are located at sites that minimize the impact on ecosystems, fishing grounds and cultural landscapes, and should not be placed within existing marine protected areas.
Mi’kmaw sovereignty and rights are respected. Under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mi’kmaq have the right to free, prior and informed consent for any project affecting their territory.
Communities are given a say in where offshore wind developments are sited and transmission comes onshore. Large-scale developments often perpetuate environmental racism toward BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) communities particularly, and frequently ignore the needs and desires of rural and coastal communities. The offshore wind industry must not repeat these mistakes and must respect communities’ right to self-determination.
An analysis of community benefits is presented and afforded to communities. Communities that have wind generation offshore should have access to additional benefits from the project. Some examples could include energy rebates, priority for employment and training opportunities, reduced property taxes, economic partnerships, community funds or direct payments (including to active users of the marine space such as fishers), access to power generated or other benefits as determined by affected communities.
Models of community owned utilities that increase energy democracy are given priority over corporately owned, for-profit offshore wind development proposals.
The challenge before us is clear: we must employ best practices to protect the ecological, social and cultural integrity of our waters and our coastal communities as we rapidly decarbonize our electricity to combat the climate crisis.
The transition to a fair and green economy must not only shift what we build, but how we build it. New ways of generating electricity should not perpetuate old practices, and therefore should support an economy that centres the well-being of our communities and natural ecosystems. Transforming our electricity systems is an opportunity to usher in a new paradigm where energy development is truly empowering for communities.
We must phase out burning coal, fossil fuels and biomass for cleaner electricity generation, and do so in a way that limits the impact to our ecosystems and increases the resilience of our communities. If built right, offshore wind can play a role in that transition.