A fee added to power bills in Nova Scotia to pay for efficiency programs would be removed next year under legislation introduced Monday by Nova Scotia's Liberal government.
But the costs of running the programs would begin to pass on to power customers in 2016, a move the Opposition says falls short of the Liberal promise to eliminate the fee from electricity bills.
The amendments brought in Monday would require Nova Scotia Power to cover the costs of efficiency programs and remove as of Jan. 1 the energy efficiency fee added to Nova Scotia Power bills. Efficiency Nova Scotia says the fee is about $5 per month for a typical residential customer.
Nova Scotia Power would be allowed to spend up to $35 million next year to pay for efficiency programs and recover those costs from customers over eight years beginning Jan. 1, 2016.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie dismissed the changes as a "gigantic shell game."
"What's happening is they'll be able to charge us back for that cost eventually," said Baillie.
"Taking the fee off one line and adding it back on to another later is not a step forward."
Energy Minister Andrew Younger acknowledged that the changes don't fully line up with what the Liberals promised during the fall election campaign — in fact, he said they were better.
Younger pointed to an agreement that would see Nova Scotia Power pay $37 million over the next 10 years to upgrade all low-income electrically heated homes in the province.
"There is no question that we have come up with a slightly different way of addressing this," Younger said.
"Let me be clear that Nova Scotia Power is still paying $37 million out of shareholder money and second of all, we have reached a plan that actually has more savings to ratepayers than what we proposed in the platform."
The Liberals were elected last year after campaigning to remove the energy efficiency fee and force Nova Scotia Power to foot the bill for the estimated $46 million annual cost to customers.
Younger said Nova Scotia Power would also have to opt for energy efficiency over purchases of fuel sources like coal and natural gas where possible, resulting in savings, adding that ratepayers could expect to see savings of between four and five per cent beginning next year.
The changes would also see the assets, liabilities and employees of Efficiency Nova Scotia transferred to a new and yet-to-be-named non-profit entity. Programs would continue to be administered under the Efficiency Nova Scotia brand.
Amendments to the Public Utilities Act would also give the Utility and Review Board regulatory oversight of efficiency programs to determine whether they are affordable.