Nova Scotia Power executives grilled by government over power hike proposal

Wednesday's public accounts committee meeting at the Nova Scotia legislature got a little electric at times, as several politicians grew angry with a lack of response to questions directed at top executives with Nova Scotia Power.

The committee meeting was to discuss the proposed 10 per cent rate hike set out by Nova Scotia Power in a January application.

But the energy utility's lawyer said the matter is before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) which is set to begin public hearings in September and so no questions could be answered regarding the proposed rate hike.

"It was a very frustrating committee," said Halifax-Atlantic Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire. "First of all, we were made aware by Nova Scotia Power and the government and through their lawyers that they weren't going to answer any questions, which in my time as MLA I had never seen of before."

Still, the government opposition pressed for answers but they came up short.

"There were no answers," said Maguire. "And it was insulting. It was insulting to all Nova Scotians."

Maguire was critical of Nova Scotia Power and asked given their service record, why they would ask for a rate hike so high, at a time when inflation and the costs of living are sky rocketing.

This is the power utility's first rate hike application in a decade, and they submitted the nearly 4,000-page request back in January.

"We've been focussed on cost management throughout those 10-year-periods, to find ways to avoid coming in for a general rate application," said Nova Scotia Power chief operating officer Mark Sidebottom. "But we are in front of one of the largest transformations the electricity sector is going to go through."

In order to build a cleaner and more reliable power grid, it will cost money said Sidebottom. The province is committed to its target of bringing in 80 per cent of its power supply from renewable energy by 2030.

The NDP says Nova Scotians can't afford a 10 per cent rate hike and even proposed new legislation during the spring session, to allow N.S. Power to offer a reduced and more affordable rate for low-income ratepayers.

“People are struggling with the rising cost of everything, they certainly can’t afford a 10 per cent increase to power rates,” said NDP Natural Resources and Renewables spokesperson Claudia Chender.

“In the spring sitting of the legislature, the Houston government tabled two bills to amend energy legislation, yet neither will keep people’s power bills affordable which should be the government’s priority.”

Chender said 37 per cent of Nova Scotians are experiencing energy poverty — meaning more than six per cent of their income is spent on power bills.

The Houston Progressive Conservative government says it will sit as an intervener at the NSUARB hearing.

The PC's passed several amendments to the public utilities act in the fall to hold Nova Scotia Power more accountable to ratepayers, by creating stronger service standards and stiffer penalties when the targets aren't met.

Nova Scotia Power said investments made to strengthen the reliability of their services, have contributed to a 29 per cent overall reduction in the frequency of outages over the last five years.