Nova Scotia Power has agreed to hold talks with the Affordable Energy Coalition to discuss ways to help low-income customers deal with rising power rates.
The agreement — reached Friday morning at a Utility and Review Board hearing — commits both sides to meet regularly over the next nine months "with a view to resolving bill payment, credit and collections matters affecting low-income residential customers."
The deal does not lower rates for low-income residents — it commits both sides to talks and the results are to be brought before the UARB by June 30.
Claire McNeil, with the Affordable Energy Coalition, told the UARB she sees the process eventually leading to an alternate rate setting for low-income Nova Scotians.
"Those are rules around interest charges, disconnection fees, some of the rules around payment agreements," she told reporters outside the hearing room.
"From our point of view, for people living below the poverty line, electricity is unaffordable."
Nova Scotia Power's current rules do not permit subsidizing any rate class, but the president of Nova Scotia Power said the utility could control its internal procedures.
"We don't control public policy but we control how the company manages within that public policy and we control how our internal procedures work," said Rob Bennett.
"Our commitment here is to work with the Affordable Energy Coalition and others and fine-tune our procedures and be supportive if there is something that can be done."
Peter Gurnham, the chair of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, said the agreement was the result of a "useful consultation amongst lawyers outside the hearing room."
Nova Scotia Power representatives are currently before the UARB for public hearings into electricity rates. The utility wants to raise rates for residential customers by three per cent in each of the next two years.