Emera's first annual shareholders meeting at its new $53-million corporate headquarters in downtown Halifax was ringed with security guards and police Thursday as protesters rallied down the street.

Inside, shareholders got good news about Nova Scotia Power's parent company. They heard that earnings are up 14 per cent over the previous year.

But even here, the company faced questions about salaries paid to executives at both companies, as well as the latest request for a six per cent increase in power rates.

Shareholder Brian Gifford reminded the board of the recent outcry over million-dollar compensation packages awarded to some executives.

"Will you show sound ethical and business leadership by reviewing the evidence of these concerns and changing your compensation policy to reflect what both economics and ethics demand?" Gifford said.

Gifford referenced a new study by an institute in Montreal that says the method used to calculate the salaries was flawed.

Allan Edgeworth, head of Emera's management compensation committee, disputes that.

"What we do has been recognized as good practice," Edgeworth said. "We are targeting competitive median pay in the industry."

Nova Scotia Power, which generates a little more than half of Emera's profits, says the transformation from coal to renewable energy will mean an extra two or three per cent a year on electricity bills.

It's painful, but unavoidable, the company maintains.

Outside the meeting, about 30 people protested rising power rates. The group, including some dressed as pirates, wants Nova Scotia Power to be a provincially owned utility again.

The outrage of ratepayers may have got through to Emera on one level. Unlike the last meeting, there are no plans for dinner and dancing.