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Maritime Electric again is responsible for electricity conservation programming. (CBC)

Responsibility for P.E.I.'s electricity conservation programming has been returned to Maritime Electric by the province.              

The government's Office of Energy Efficiency took over conservation from Maritime Electric in 2011.

But Energy Minister Wes Sheridan said no specific programming was done because the province was waiting for recommendations from the P.E.I. Energy Commission.

The commission's report, released a year ago, suggested conservation control should go back to the utility, but only if Maritime Electric's generating assets are moved to the province's books.              

Power cable priority

Negotiations are underway for that to happen within the next five years, said Sheridan

"It's something Maritime Electric is not excited about, of course. But that's why the commission put it in there. It's to ensure that they're making the right decisions based on putting the cheapest electricity in the homes of Islanders," said Sheridan.

"If they're basing it on their assets and their profitability then we've got the wrong driver. We have to make sure that they're there for the right reasons."

Maritime Electric's CEO Fred O'Brien told CBC News there have been no detailed discussions with the province about transferring the assets.

The utility and government's top priority has been getting a third power cable to New Brunswick, O'Brien said.

Sheridan hopes federal funding for the new cable will be in place by spring.

Electricity rebates

Meanwhile, when the Office of Energy Efficiency was responsible for electricity conservation, it was offering 10 per cent rebates on air source heat pumps.

Almost 1,500 Island homeowners got one of the devices at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers.              

Government supported the rebate because heating Island homes with electricity is cheaper than oil, said Sheridan.

"If they found a way to cut half of their heating bill in their home, it's great news. We would never stand in their way. And that's why we continued with our small grant. We're there to help low- and modest-income earning Islanders heat their home in a more efficient way."

The switch to electric heat from oil has almost tripled the growth in electricity use this year, said Maritime Electric.

That's forcing the utility to look at building more on-Island generation sooner, which could cost ratepayers $1 million a year.

Sheridan said the utility likely won't have to build a new combustion turbine if the third cable is secured, but Maritime Electric questions that.