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As carbon tax drives up fuel costs, efficiency experts call for more green energy supports

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The carbon tax has been the talk of the town in the Maritimes this week as people prepare for the hike in gas prices when the federal government's carbon pricing plan kicks in on Canada Day.

As politicians argue over its merits and flaws, Maritimers are the ones who are having to deal with the transition.

Energy efficiency experts and environmentalists here are calling on the government to get real and stop the political finger-pointing and deliver more supports to help those who are on the low and middle income break their reliance on fossil fuels.

"I think we need to start having a mature conversation about bringing down climate pollution," said Gretchen Fitzgerald, national program director with the Sierra Club of Canada.

Whether Maritimers like it or not, the carbon tax comes into effect on July 1, and will increase the cost of fuel in Nova Scotia by 14 cents per litre, which will increase again by another 4 cents the next weekend when the clean fuel adjuster comes into effect.

Fitzgerald says we have long established our provincial and federal climate targets, and it's time to focus on what renewable energies will help us reach those goals.

But there's a reluctance to "going green" says Fitzgerald and as fossil fuels are phased out, it marks a major transition in our economy and way of life.

"Part of it is just because the fossil fuel industry is just so entrenched in our political machinery," said Fitzgerald. "And let's face it, (it's entrenched) in our mental thinking about how we think the world works."

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has called on the federal government to drop the carbon tax amid the high cost of living and inflationary pressures, and says Nova Scotians can't afford the increase in fuel costs.

"Nova Scotians are concerned about this new federal tax and how it will increase the cost of everything - food, clothing, over-the-counter medicine, building our homes and more," said Houston.

"We have the same goal as the federal government - to reduce our carbon emissions - but Nova Scotia's plan doesn't require taxing people. We are asking the federal government once again to work with us and not raise the price of everything for Nova Scotians."

Chris Benjamin is a senior energy coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax and says the carbon tax is meant to change our behaviour and cut our dependence on fossil fuels.

"This is all about transitioning to a carbon-free economy," said Benjamin, who points out the carbon tax rebate program will put money back in most people's pockets while helping to fund other green energy programs.

Programs like helping people replace their oil or gas-based home heating systems with greener electric options like heat pumps.

"That transition to heat pumps and renewable energy sources will actually help people save on their energy bills," said Benjamin.

When it comes to electric vehicles, Benjamin wants to see the government make them mandated so auto retailers have to increase the number of EVs on the lot.

"Despite the higher cost, there's actually a lot more demand for electric vehicles that the supply can offer," said Benjamin.

"People are waiting to get an EV and they are just not available."

There's a lack of charging infrastructure available and Benjamin says that should be mandated that more charging stations are set up.

"We'd like to see those at every gas station but also available at hockey rinks and any gathering place and community centre," said Benjamin.

"That's an investment and that's where the carbon tax can play a part, that can be invested in EV infrastructure."

Efficiency Nova Scotia is a partner with both the provincial and federal governments and helps Nova Scotians who want to transition from fossil fuels by making their homes more energy efficient, like installing an electric heat pump.

They can deliver rebates and energy programming to a variety of Nova Scotians and they are seeing requests for rebate and programming support climb in recent months.

"Since the Canada Greener Homes Program was launched in 2021, we've had around 20,000 Nova Scotians apply," said Janet Tobin, a spokesperson with Efficiency Nova Scotia.

"And in just the past year we've had nearly 6,000 applications through our Home Warming Program which is more than double what we have seen in previous years."

For the latest Nova Scotia news, visit our dedicated provincial page.

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