Who has the power?

As the province's green-energy deadlines approach, Nova Scotia Power may prove to be Premier Houston's greatest challenge. Photo: CNS

As concern over the climate crisis grows, Nova Scotia Power proves to be troublingly out of step with its province

Whether it’s the ever-climbing bills, inexplicable blackouts, or vague and often misleading communication, Nova Scotia Power has a knack for irritating the people it serves. One of its latest missteps came in January, when the business announced plans to slap big fees on customers who generate their own solar power.

The outcry was immediate. Solar panel installers said the move would destroy their businesses. Customers planning to convert to greener energy said they’d be unable to do so, thanks to the crippling new charges. Observers and environmentalists said the plan would hamstring the province’s ambitions to fight the climate crisis.

Leadership at Emera-owned Nova Scotia Power struggled to justify the move, with the public seeing no rationale beyond profit. The monopoly showed itself to be, starkly but unsurprisingly, out of touch with the citizens it’s supposed to serve. 

Premier Tim Houston’s policies have been hit-or-miss (join me on Twitter for an ongoing series I like to call “Hey! The pandemic is still happening!”) but he’s no slouch at reading a room. He condemned Nova Scotia Power’s scheme, making the utility back down with threats of new legislation, on which he’s now following through.

No doubt he had observed how Nova Scotia Power haunted Stephen McNeil, who rose to power in 2013 in part on a promise to break the monopoly and lower power charges, and then proved unable (or unwilling) to make any dramatic moves.

So, Houston’s question becomes: What now? Kiboshing a single boneheaded policy isn’t so hard. But how does he get the utility to do what’s best for Nova Scotia instead of what’s most profitable for shareholders?

Nova Scotia has a much-ballyhooed plan to stop producing coal-fired power, and the 2030 deadline looms. The province is home to many green energy boosters and entrepreneurs, with a host of ideas. And they report a common challenge: Nova Scotia Power is largely stymying their efforts, rather than working with them to hit the province’s clean energy targets. 

Kevin Mullen is a geothermal entrepreneur who believes he has the answer. But he’s uncertain he’ll be able to convince government and utility policymakers to embrace it. “This affordable, clean, baseload power would be the crown jewel of all of Nova Scotia’s energy mix,” he says. “You would think they’d be all over our proposal and trying to facilitate.” 

He senses “some enthusiasm” from government, but that’s all. So, he waits for his phone to ring and Nova Scotia Power keeps pumping out greenhouse gasses and eschewing clean-energy technologies that other areas have embraced.

Read more in Janet Whitman’s feature “A plan for Nova Scotia, not for Nova Scotia Power.

And what do you think? Are you happy with how Nova Scotia Power serves the province? Share your views in our next issue. Letters published at the editor’s discretion; submissions will be edited. 

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