We got smoke here. Will there be fire?

Premier Stephen McNeil’s cabinet has stealthily changed the environmental assessment regulations to make it easier to build a waste-to-energy incinerator, a.k.a. burning garbage to generate energy.

Anyone opposed to one of these projects now has less time to react. Proponents of them–now designated for Class 1 environmental assessment, down from Class 2–have to post notice in a local and provincial newspaper within seven days of registering it with Nova Scotia Environment. The public has 30 days to comment after the registration, leaving 23 days if the proponent waits the full seven to publish the notice. That is not enough time to respond to what will inevitably be a complex proposal. In gov-speak, this falls under the heading of “(reducing) unnecessary regulatory burden”. (See below)

Of course, the minister of environment can extend the comment period if she believes “blah, blah, blah”.

The net effect is

367px-district_heating_plant_spittelau_ssw_crop1
Waste to energy plant in Vienna

that if you don’t like waste-to-energy burners, you’d better read the papers regularly and be prepared to move fast.

If you take comfort in the  list of materials banned from incinerators, just remember you are reading this post because changing regulations is dead easy.

(Disclosure: Turpin Labs has an indirect  interest in this issue with respect to used tires.)

Just understanding the process set out in the revised regulations will take you a couple of days and you’ll probably need a lawyer.

And if you fail to spot the official notice of the project in the Bupkis News-Scimitar, well, good luck to you.

There are plenty of reasons for opposing waste-to-energy plants, not least of which is that burning things produces greenhouses gases, which produce extraordinary droughts in Southern  Nova Scotia and floods in Cape Breton, among other nasties.

And the rejection of waste-to-energy more than 20 years ago in Halifax was key to the development of Nova Scotia’s celebrated waste management program.

But, hey, that’s what public comment is for. Remember, you’ll have 23 days to file it.

Which makes T-Labs cynical about the way this change was announced: On September 13, NSE sent a letter (below) to “stakeholders” explaining the change. If stakeholders included Nova Scotia media, the government forgot to tell them–there was no media release. Consequently, a Google search turns up only coverage from two trade publications, both of which follow regulatory changes closely by, we imagine, subscribing to the Nova Scotia Royal Gazette (which, if you’re wondering, has neither comics nor crossword).

You can also find the regulation change in Cabinet’s official Order-in-Council 2016-224, which is a public document known mostly to insiders. In the OIC, you’ll find references to a “Report and Recommendation”, which is even more of an insider document. It is typically a tedious read, but it does contain actual information. As of this writing, Cabinet support staff were unable to help Turpin Labs obtain a copy before Tuesday.

For further reading, NSE’s website has an FAQ on environmental assessments. It was last updated on March 31, 2014.

Or try Metro Vancouver halts incinerator plans, as waste plummets.

stakeholder-letter-energy-to-waste

Solar power cheaper than NSPI

If you enjoy decent sun exposure, you can install solar electric panels on your house and begin earning a profit the next month while making a big-time reduction in your carbon footprint.

solar-pv-flower-scaledThere’s no magic to this, no rebates are required, and the math is easy.

The average Nova Scotia home consumes about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or kWh. Each kWh, taxes-in, costs around $0.155 when you buy it from Nova Scotia Power. That works out to $1,550 per year.

Let’s say you install enough solar photovoltaic panels, known as solar PV or just PV, to generate the full 10,000 kWh. In Halifax, that would require panels with a generating capacity of about 9,300 kW (known to solar nerds as kWp).

It’s hard to get an online estimate of the cost in Nova Scotia, but there’s a company in P.E.I. that will install that — for Islanders —  for about $19,500. (Actually, P.E.I., gets more sun, so it might cost Islanders as little as $15,700. Maybe you, too, if you live in a sunny spot.)

Seems high, right? But what if you mortgaged $19,500 at 4.54% with a 25-year amortization, terms I picked at random from Canadian Banks? The answer is annual mortgage payments of $1,301, including principal. That’s $250 less than you’re paying now for electricity.

Each year you pay in $1,301 and you get back $250 for your trouble. Presto! A profit.

At Turpin Laboratories, we have access to credit at 2.89%, so our annual cost would be $1,094.

It works out to $0.11 per kWh versus the $0.155 per kWh from NSPI. By the way, this is not so different from what power utilities do: they borrow money to build massive power plants and pay it back, plus interest, over the life of the equipment. The nice thing about PV panels is they require almost no maintenance, are guaranteed for 25 years and could last as long as 40 years.

And here’s the best part: based on NSPI figures, you would be reducing your GHG emissions by 6,520 kg (carbon equivalent). This is the equivalent of taking 1.3 passenger cars off the road, or not burning 3,159 kg of coal

But, you ask, the sun doesn’t shine 24/7, so what do I do when it’s dark?

Well, in Nova Scotia we have a thing called net metering for households. In a nutshell, it means NSPI has to buy any excess electricity your panels produce at the same price they charge you for their electricity. So, to over-simplify, they pay you for excess generation during the day and you pay them for their electricity at night. Periodically, you and the company do the math: you subtract what they sold you from what they purchased from you and settle the bill. At Turpin Labs, it means NSPI would cut us a cheque for $450 at the end of the year.

And this works for any number of PV panels. (Two to four thousand watts (Wp) is common.) Add more for your electric vehicle and —wow — you are star at saving humans from climate change. Plus, your electricity and auto fuel bills total zero.

It’s important to shop around and do your homework. This a new industry, so ask tough questions — there’s plenty of info available on the web.

If you can’t get a reasonable forecast about your generation potential, then move on to another installer. If someone is offering you panels than generate much more than 1.1 kWh annually per kWp of panel capacity (kWh/kWp  now that you know the lingo), start asking questions. Natural resources Canada has detailed and relevant local data here.

But you can’t go crazy and actually compete with the power company. The amount of solar capacity you install has to be consistent with your needs.

Has Turpin Labs done this? No, because we’re reluctant to take on new debt in the Lab’s development, despite the rock-solid logic of the proposition. It’s just psychology. This is where a rebate from, say, Efficiency Nova Scotia, could make a difference in combatting climate change.

“Wow, Turpin Labs,” you say. “This is great! Why aren’t the government and NSPI promoting the heck out of this to help fight climate change?”

Well, at a certain point residential generation becomes a problem for power utilities and that’s a problem for governments, even ones that campaigned on putting the powerco in its place.

More on that in a future post.

 

Carbon tax: you can get PAID twice

T-Labs refs call B-S on carbon tax whining:

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil got it wrong when he said Nova Scotians would “pay twice” under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax. Actually, many of them will GET PAID TWICE unless McNeil tries a cash-grab.

In fact, the biggest risk to Nova Scotians is that their own government will spend the tax money on useless, cockamamie projects.

stephen-mcneil
Stephen McNeil, premier

McNeil threw a fit when Trudeau said Canada would have a carbon tax starting in 2018 if the provinces don’t do anything on their own, which they won’t.

McNeil whined that Nova Scotians will have to “pay twice” to fight climate change, which is killing us, because we have already paid so much for the progress we’ve made to date reducing power company carbon emissions. He was backed by his human survival minister, Margaret Miller, who walked out of a federal-provincial conference in protest.

For clarity, by “paying twice” McNeil can only mean that we paid once through our higher power rates caused by renewables and cleaner air, and now must pay again through Prime Minister Dr. Evil’s carbon tax.

It’s a beloved story: Nova Scotians getting the shaft.

But at Turpin Laboratories, our Referees Division is blowing the whistle and calling “bullshit”. Here’s why:

In 2007, in a spasm of long-term thinking unnoticed except by then-Human Survival Minister Mark Parent, the N.S. Assembly passed sweeping environmental legislation that included bringing down GHG (carbon) emissions from power generation. At the time, Nova Scotia Power’s emissions were 10,648,422 tonnes per year.

Without that intervention it’s a good bet we would be emitting at least that much today, and probably more, despite some high-profile plant-closings.

So, let’s imagine that 2018 rolls around and we are emitting the very same $10,648,422 tonnes per year. How much would we pay in Trudeau’s dastardly carbon tax over the next nine years? The total would be $3,550,874,250 (see chart below).

However, our power emissions are currently just 6,772,769 tonnes. If we assume that rate from 2018 through 2026, our total carbon tax would be $2,370,469,150. The difference is $1,180,405,100. That is, Nova Scotians would SAVE  $1.2 billion.

Put still another way, Newfoundland, which today has emissions very close to what we had in 2007, would pay $1.2 billion MORE than Nova Scotians.

The difference is Nova Scotia’s reward for getting an early start. Sorry, but it’s just not the same as “paying twice”.

Also, the carbon tax revenues will not leave the N.S. economy. The feds will remit the funds back to the province. That’s where the real danger lies: instead of using it to lower provincial income tax, as B.C. does, our government could well use it to reward the province’s high rollers with projects like football stadiums or, say, a massive convention centre for Yarmouth or New Waterford.

On the other hand, if the province in fact lowered its income tax, regular folks would get a tax break and, if they actually reduced their carbon footprints, they would save money on gasoline and electricity.

In other words, they would get PAID twice: tax-break + energy savings = paid twice.

But we’re not done. Our political thinkers would have you believe that Nova Scotia is the only province to address GHG emissions. But Turpin Labs has discovered there are actually 10 provinces in Canada (who knew?) and some of them have reduced their GHGs, too.

Yes, Nova Scotia is tops with a commendable 29% since 2005. But N.B. (say it ain’t so) is right behind us at 27%. Ontario’s number is 19%. The Yukon is 40% (see chart below).

So, N.S. politicians, please stop pleading special case, grow up, and figure out how best to use all that new tax money coming your way. Hint: give it back to the people who paid it.

carbon-tax

ca4bon-4

 

 

 

 

Sumo wreslters can’t eat here

In April 2013 my wife and I bought a dining room table from Gallery 1 in Burnside. It looked solid and sported a beautiful finish. It was artificially “distressed”, a look that we don’t normally care for, but it was well done. The price was $1,200, which was a tad high by our standards, but we told ourselves it was time to invest in a “quality” table. Gallery 1, as you might expect, assured us that this was indeed a quality piece.

table-4
Above: End-view of dining table made by Canadel and sold by Gallery 1. The gap is known in the trade as a “crack” caused by a “lousy piece of wood”. However, says Gallery 1, Canadel reasons that because the “crack” took more than a year to show up, it cannot be a manufacturing defect. (Note to self: stop inviting Sumo wrestlers to dance on our dining table.)

Unfortunately, the manufacturer, Canadel, must have turned the dial on their customizer from “distress” all the way up to “create premature failure” when making this table. The result is that three years later, this “quality” piece of furniture now features a large “crack”, to use the technical terms. Consequently, it no longer accepts the extension that came with it and, when you move the table, one leg swings out from under by about 15 degrees.

Again for the technically-minded, the table cost twelve hundred “dollars”.

This happened less than three years after we bought the table, during which time we used the extension maybe twice.

The table was guaranteed for one year. A smarter shopper would have rejected the item on seeing that. My bad.

In any case, neither Canadel nor Gallery 1 felt they had an obligation to fix it, although Gallery 1 offered me the name of a repair person. Here is Gallery 1’s final word on the issue: “Unfortunately, Canadel has declined the claim (because) they feel if it were a manufacturer’s defect it would have happened in the first year.”

I would agree with that if we had been dancing on this table, but those days are long behind us. (BTW, we’ve owned $200 tables upon which Sumo wrestlers could safely dance away the night.)

If you follow Canadel’s logic to its conclusion, purchasers of their fine tables can expect to use the extension once, maybe twice, before it breaks.

By way of contrast, I’ve been buying Apple computers since 1993 or so and never had to replace one because it broke. On two occasions, I encountered problems well after the guarantee had expired. But Apple identified both problems as “known issues” and fixed them anyway  —  at no cost. That is to say zero — no parts, no labour, no shipping. My only expense was driving to the Apple outlet.

Thus, I will continue to buy Apple products, despite their slightly higher prices. The company, even though it’s a behemoth, stands behind its work.

I cannot say the same for Canadel or Gallery 1.

If you need furniture, my advice is to wait for the new Ikea store.

Order! Order, please!

Here are some questions about the procedure for  tomorrow’s HRM Regional Council agenda (Sept. 6). Perhaps there are some experts out there who can help us.

1. HRM Counc. Reg Rankin’s motion to hobble the acquisition of parkland for Blue Mount-Birch Cove project is the first item on the agenda.

The motion was deferred on July 26 so that staff could prepare a report on the situation for Council. But now they’re going to consider Rankin’s motion before the report is introduced, so what was the point in deferring the motion in the first place? How does Council get the full benefit of the report if it doesn’t have a chance to discuss it before Rankin’s motion?

Q: Is this an abuse of procedure?

2. Rankin’s motion and the motion that follows the staff report on the agenda are antithetical. For example: the first motion directs staff to begin “secondary planning”; the second motion is to refuse to engage in secondary planning. So, chronologically, we have two deeply conflicting motions separated by a staff report on the matter at hand.

Q: Is this good procedure?

3. Rankin’s motion arguably contradicts at least two previous ones directing staff to proceed with land acquisition in a businesslike fashion.

Q: Does it nullify the previous motions? Technically, is it effectively a motion of rescission? Does that mean it would require a two-thirds majority to pass? Is it out of order? (See http://bit.ly/2ce7c9X , Article 62, beginning on Page 30.)

Again, knowledgeable comment would be helpful here because citizens have no way of raising a point of order at a Council meeting. If you can help, the best place to contribute is likely the FB site where you found the link to this post.

Procedure aside, Rankin’s motion is mischievous and insulting to the 1,421 citizens who submitted comments in support of a project that will benefit our descendants more than it will benefit us. When is that last time 1,421 people spoke up for something instead of against it?

***

In online discussions, people have noted that Halifax councillors—on average—got one-third of their campaign contributions in 2011 from what CBC calls “the development community.” It’s a little naïve to think this amounts to bribery. Only a fool would risk a jail sentence for a few thousand dollars to help a campaign they might not win. Real bribes are more sophisticated and not the topic here.

But campaign contributions get you better access to the winners you backed. This is legal, and even ethical—we all have the right to speak to elected representatives. Political parties trade access for contributions in plain view at fund-raisers.

So what? Well, examine your feelings when you’re in the presence of power and money. You’ll likely find a powerful desire to co-operate.

That’s the real problem. Without strong self-discipline, meeting with the mighty can bring out your inner brown-noser. No cash required.

BMBCL parkland potentially worth $67M

BANC

View from Costco on Chain Lake Drive: left, BANC Developments; right, wilderness area. Trees aren’t worth much until someone cuts them down.
NOTE: I have corrected this report to reflect the fact that a much-quoted $6 million figure demanded by developers actually refers to an offer made with respect to just 210 acres. H/T Waye Mason.

A 2013 sale of city-owned land to BANC Developments suggests the land adjacent to the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area could be worth $67 million to its current owners.

But that’s only if is re-zoned to allow development. As it is now, the same land is assessed at only $2.4 million.

Our team of crack analysts also believe that the owners, primarily Annapolis Group and Stevens Group, would prefer to hang on until this or a future council decides to re-open the whole question. This is a manoeuvre known as a “full Rankin”.

SOME BACKGROUND

Halifax Council has decided not once, but twice, to buy the 1,308 acres of designated parkland near the Bayer’s Lake Business Clusterpark. This idea originated in 2006 and it inspired the province to declare roughly 3,200 adjoining acres a protected wilderness area. The city land would be an ecologically vital buffer for the wilderness area and an accessible green-space for folks who aren’t hikers or canoeists. It would be 20 minutes from downtown Halifax and reachable by bus.

The province has done exactly what it promised. And so, really, has Halifax Council. All that remains is for staff to negotiate the terms or start expropriation. They have been directed to do this after due process. The owners want $6 million; the city is offering $2.8 million.

IS COUNCIL SOMEWHAT RESPONSIBLE FOR T-LAB’S OUTRAGEOUS ESTIMATE?

Yes. In 2013, after meeting in secret, Council authorized the sale to BANC Developments Ltd. of 183 acres behind Kent Building Supplies and Staples in Bayer’s Lake. You can easily see the demarcation between wilderness area and BANC’s “developed” land from the Costco parking lot across the street. (Please see photo above.)

At $9.3 million, the sale price is $51,070 per acre. If that price were applied to the 1,308 acres in question, it would work out to $66,799,224.

IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?

No. The Facilitator’s Report rejected by staff last week mentioned 210 acres that Annapolis felt was worth $6 million, vs $2.8 million suggested by the city. In the absence of real information, I think it’s fair to extrapolate, giving us $37.4 million for 1,308 acres. The city’s valuation for those 210 acres extrapolates to $17.4 million. (I do not apologize for these seat-of-the-pants valuations. This is what happens when your government won’t release hard data.)

So, I offer four conjectures for the value of the land:

Mine: $67 million

Annapolis Group: $37.4 million

The city: $17.4 million

Also mine: $2.4 million, based on the total current assessment.

The differences are based on what you’re allowed to do with the land. $67 million is possible if the land is zoned industrial/commercial, like the BANC land. However, if the land cannot be developed in any way, which has been the case for 10 years, I would argue the value is closer to $2.4 million.

In essence, the developers are arguing they should be paid as if the current zoning magically changed in their favour. But it won’t unless Council can be pressured into doing that, so the owners deserve bottom dollar. It’s tough, but that’s business for you.

Again—the direction to staff to buy the acreage as identified almost 10 years ago is done and dusted. Negotiations are taking place in that context. Obdurate Councillor Reg Rankin would have you believe otherwise, but he is as wrong as a flat-earther.

WOULD DELAY BE A GOOD TACTIC FOR THE DEVELOPERS?

 

A favourable re-zoning would be worth big money and worth waiting for.

If it were re-zoned as, say, residential, then you could subdivide and build spectacular lakeside homes for wealthy people right next to a wilderness area and 20 minutes from downtown. The value would jump to at least $67 million, as noted.

IS A FULL-RANKIN REALLY POSSIBLE?

Yes. Council memories fade with time. Sometimes they change their minds after new members are elected. And, sometimes, councils just get tired of dealing with a particular issue and will do anything to move on.

If Turpin Labs were advising the landowners, we would tell them to delay sale until one of those things happens. After all, land only gets more valuable with time. And developers are patient—much of the land hasn’t changed hands in more than 30 years.

WHAT SHOULD COUNCIL DO?

If we were advising Council, we would recommend bringing this deal to a close quickly, even if it means overpaying. Alternatively, there’s expropriation, which would probably put the matter in the hands of the courts. That can be a crapshoot, but there’s just as much risk posed by the ongoing pressure to close the purchase after 10 years of delay.

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT NEXT?

It’s possible someone will propose swapping the 1,308 acres for all or part the  Williams Lake backlands. It would be pitched as a grand compromise but, in fact, would be a $67m rip-off.

Don’t negotiate! Expropriate!

 

table 1200px

Turpin Laboratories has determined that the $6 million reportedly demanded for private lands within Halifax’s Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes Regional Park is outrageous.

“It’s whack-a-doodle,” says Bill Turpin,  the Turpin Labs CEO. “If they’re only paying taxes on a $2.4 million assessment,  how can they claim it’s worth $6 million? Maybe they’re paying a special, extra-high tax rates. I dunno.”

In 2008, when the joint provincial/municipal BMBC project became general knowledge, the assessment was even lower — about $2,017,000. (Caveat: both totals are subject to small variations because they do not include small slices of private lots that need to be acquired, and assessments for three lots did not go back as far as 2008.)

Both assessments come from the Property Valuation Services Corporation, which is the same outfit that also assesses homes. Halifax staff think it’s worth about $2.8 million, which is generous.

Interestingly, the total value of the land — owned by the Annapolis Group and the Stevens Group — has increased by 20 per cent in the past eight years, whereas the assessment for the Turpin Laboratories estate in the North End of Halifax has increased by 32 per cent. According to our forestry director, Celestia, the lower gains by the undeveloped land is because “trees don’t have any value until you cut them down.”

In any case, the PVSC says its assessments reflect the true market value: “Nova Scotia property assessments are determined by highly professional and experienced PVSC assessors. Our assessors are trained to value all types of property. 

We assess properties at market value, which is the amount, you, a willing seller, would receive for your property if it were purchased from a willing buyer on the open market … “

There you have it. Argument over, right? Haligonians pay a hefty $2.4 million and we get the land for our park, where trees will remain in place, thus depressing the property value. But it appears that Annapolis and Stevens are not “willingto sell at that price even though, barring the something truly exceptional, it’s the assessment they have been paying taxes on. You can’t have it both ways.

The reason these landowners can even contemplate demanding the $6 million is that pressure to buy the area has been building on Council and staff ever the BMBC project became public. The easy way for Council to get on with their lives would be to pay more than the land is worth. Lots more.

But the money belongs to us, not Council. What are we to do? 

Well, for once, we have the hammer. For once, we get to tell the big boys what to do. Or, as we say here at Turpin Labs: “Don’t negotiate! Expropriate!”

And we pay the lower valuation set in 2008. Why? Because we can, and we’re annoyed with these landowners. 

Don’t be squeamish about this, Haligonians. Expropriation happens all the time, but usually to “ordinary” people.

Detailed assessment information is below. If you punch the “PID” number into viewpoint.ca, you’ll see where each lot is and its assessment history. In Many cases, you can also see Viewpoint’s estimate of their tax bill, e.g., $6,244 for PID 00339598.

PID OWNER Assessment 2008 Assessment Current
00339598 Annapolis  $429,000  $516,000
40725897 Annapolis  $254,500  $332,400
41120577 Annapolis  $233,000  $302,100
40420747 Annapolis  $267,300  $231,500
41269853 Annapolis  $117,200  $134,300
41269879 Annapolis  $47,200  $85,300
41269861 Annapolis  $26,600  $50,700
41365156 Annapolis  $37,100  $37,100
41269929 Annapolis  $29,500  $27,600
41365131 Annapolis  $21,300  $21,300
41269911 Annapolis  $21,900  $17,600
41358086 Annapolis  $1,100  $1,100
40806200 Stevens Group  $498,700  $622,400
40806218 Stevens Group  $26,400  $32,600
40420788 Stevens Group  $6,600  $6,600
  Totals    
  Annapolis  $1,485,700  $1,757,000
  Stevens  $531,700  $661,600
  Grand Total  $2,017,400  $2,418,600