Halifax Water says it's barred from promoting conservation programs
Utility says regulator won't let it fund conservation programs because it has too many pipes to replace
Halifax Water should be doing more to encourage people to use less water, one councillor says. But the utility says its hands are effectively tied when it comes to funding conservation programs.
The call came earlier this month from Coun. Matt Whitman, who said conservation is good for the planet — and the pocketbook.
"I'm a big fan of conservation," he said.
But officials with Halifax Water recently told the city's regional council that the utility is not allowed to fund conservation programs.
"We're forbidden by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board," said Cathie O'Toole, the CFO and director of corporate services for Halifax Water.
The reason for the ban has to do with the water utility's ongoing ability to replace aging pipes — and the fixed costs that go along with that, said O'Toole.
"We have … about $2 billion worth of infrastructure to look after," she said.
If conservation efforts were to be highly successful, the utility would still be forced to raise its rates to meet those fixed costs.
But Whitman said he thinks conservation programs could still ultimately mean much-needed savings on the waste water side of the equation.
"You'd think the less volume going through the treatment system would be a good thing," he said, pointing out that the cost of replacing all the pipes could be as much as $500 million.
Whitman said he doesn't believe the utility has taken a serious look at the financial benefits of reducing demand.
O'Toole told councillors conservation is already happening naturally, pointing to the fact water consumption has decreased 22 per cent over the past 15 years.
The water utility does plan to pass on information to low-income customers, through community organizations, to help them manage their water bills. And online tracking of water usage for customers is expected to be available by 2020.
"I look forward to that data becoming available; that will be great progress," said Whitman.