Help with high bills, coalition urges province

A coalition of anti-poverty groups says the province needs to do more to reduce the utility bills of low-income Nova Scotians.

A coalition of anti-poverty groups says the province needs to do more to reduce the utility bills of low-income Nova Scotians.

Members of the Affordable Energy Coalition made a presentation at a forum on poverty Thursday at Province House.

Lucille Harper, who works at a women's centre in Antigonish, said many women live in poverty because of high oil and power bills.

"We got a call from an 80-year-old woman who was not turning the lights on in the winter time, so she was sitting in the dark from 5 p.m. on because she didn't want to increase her power bill," Harper said.

The coalition is renewing a call for the government to negotiate with Nova Scotia Power to set up a rate assistance program for those struggling to pay their bills.

"The program includes a fixed credit assistance component, crisis management and an arrears management component," said Megan Leslie, a coalition member who works for Dalhousie Legal Aid.

Leslie said part of the problem is many people are living in drafty sub-standard houses. So, she has a suggestion for what the province should do with the $7 million left over in its heating rebate program.

"It's our eighth recommendation that the department, through the keep-the-heat program, invest this $7 million in energy efficiency programs for low-income Nova Scotians," Leslie said.

A committee of the legislature will consider that suggestion when it reports on the results of its two-day forum on poverty, which concludes Friday.