Nova Scotia

Another N.S. Power hydro dam project is in serious trouble

The Tusket dam refurbishment was already 3 years late and $18 million over budget before the latest setback.

Tusket dam refurbishment already 3 years late and $18M over budget

The rebuild of the Tusket dam in Yarmouth County is $14-million over budget. (CBC)

Provincial regulators have given Nova Scotia Power until next week to explain the latest setback of the company's ill-fated refurbishment of the Tusket hydro dam near Yarmouth, N.S.

Nova Scotia Power is halting work yet again as water continues to seep into the construction zone despite multiple attempts to seal off the site.

The utility told regulators it intends to stop construction and stabilize the area "in order to finalize a modified construction plan and further assess the cost and schedule impacts to the project."

The refurbishment is already three years behind schedule and $18 million over budget. Nova Scotia Power wants ratepayers to pick up the cost.

"Despite the progress made to date, water migration remains an ongoing issue," the company told the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) in its most recent update on Jan. 31.

Last summer, Nova Scotia Power applied to the provincial regulator for "authorization to overspend" on the Tusket dam — regulatory speak for sticking ratepayers with the bill. Costs have doubled since construction began in 2017. 

Not clear when project will be completed

But the bottom line is not clear, nor is the completion date for the project. The most recent estimate put the final cost at $36 million with work ending in February 2023.

"Further work is required before N.S. Power can confirm its updated construction plan and authorization to overspend ... amount, which may necessitate amendments to the application. The company is not in a position at this time to provide a timeline as to when that work will be completed," Nova Scotia Power told regulators.

The UARB is demanding answers from the utility no later than Feb. 23, including an explanation of the further work that's required.

Nova Scotia Power's request to charge ratepayers $18 million in overspending includes $3.2 million in "contingency funding."

Nova Scotia Power declines comment

The UARB has ordered the company to report next week on additional contingency spending from Oct. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021. Nova Scotia Power has also been told to produce quarterly reports on contingency spending.

The regulator granted Nova Scotia Power's request to suspend proceedings to recover its overspending from ratepayers in December shortly after the company first disclosed its efforts to halt water infiltration had failed.

Nova Scotia Power declined to comment citing the ongoing regulatory review.

Gaspereau Lake dam

Meanwhile, the utility has halted work at another dam project, but for different reasons.

Refurbishment of the Gaspereau Lake dam was stopped after Mi'kmaw leaders withdrew support for the project.

The dam is the site of a large, Indigenous archeological find which has so far delayed the refurbishment by 14 years and pushed the cost up by 421 per cent to $22 million.

Nova Scotia Power also wants customers to pay for the overspending.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.