Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Power ordered to pay $250,000 for failing to meet standards

NSP has been fined for the first time for failing to meet reliability and customer service standards.

'It is not acceptable for the service levels to continue to decline,' says review board decision

Nova Scotia Power has been fined $250,000 by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for failing to meet performance standards. (The Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia Power has been fined $250,000 for consistently failing to meet reliability and customer service standards.

The "administrative penalty" was levied by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board after the regulator found the company missed six of 13 performance targets in 2019, including standards for the frequency and length of power outages.

It was the third consecutive year Nova Scotia Power failed to meet all its standards. It missed more targets each year.

"It is not acceptable for the service levels to continue to decline and it is the Board's view that in order to promote future compliance an administrative penalty is warranted," the board said in a report issued this week.

The money, which is due by the end of September, will come from shareholders and be used to lower the fuel bill customers pay to generate electricity. That amount is too small to lower rates.

Bad weather excuse rejected

Nova Scotia Power performance standards for reliability, response to adverse weather and customer service were established in 2016.

They grew out of widespread frustration from post-tropical storm Arthur in 2014, which knocked out power to 250,000 customers for up to a week.

In the annual review, NSP blamed weather events like Hurricane Dorian in 2019 for dragging down its overall ratings, but the regulator said "increasing intensity, severity, or frequency of adverse weather events is not a new phenomenon."

"It is incumbent upon NS Power to face those challenges and to ensure that the system's resiliency and reliability is maintained at a satisfactory level," the board wrote.

"It's a very important decision for ratepayers," said consumer advocate Bill Mahody, who represents NSP's 400,000 residential customers. "The board has told the company that weather incidents are ones that the company needs to plan for as opposed to using weather as an excuse for poor performance."

The regulator said NSP missed:

  •  Provincewide reliability standard for outage frequency and outage duration.
  •  30-second standard to answer regular business calls.
  •  percentage of customer bills estimated.
  •  repairing chronic problem circuits.

How accurate are those restoration time estimates?

The accuracy of estimated time of power restoration also fell last year.

The four-hour window for estimating restoration times was accurate from 55 to 69 per cent of the time.

A Nova Scotia Power employee fixes a power line in Halifax in 2019. (Robert Short/CBC)

It was better in 2018 when the average ranged from 62 to 77 per cent.

The company attributed the drop to the impact of September's storm, which was a hurricane in Atlantic waters but landed in Nova Scotia as a post-tropical storm.

NSP has been ordered to provide restoration time estimates within a two-hour window in future.

Nova Scotia Power responds

In a written response to CBC News, NSP said "while we are disappointed with the decision, we value and understand the importance of having performance standards in place and our team continues to focus on doing everything it can to meet and exceed these standards."

The company continued to focus on weather.

"In 2019, post tropical storm Dorian was the most powerful and impactful storm this province had ever experienced. Climate change in Nova Scotia is having a real impact and while we have significantly increased investment in long term reliability solutions, we must be mindful of balancing this with cost and affordability for customers," spokesperson Jackie Foster wrote.

'Deteriorating reliability service levels'

The board acknowledged the impact of severe weather, but found the frequency and length of outages is "significantly worse" outside those events and "customers are experiencing deteriorating reliability service levels."

Mahody also recognized weather, and the hard work of crews who restore electricity.

He said the most important finding is the level of service interruption when customers "look outside their windows and wonder why the power is out."

"We all pay significant rates here in Nova Scotia for electricity and there's an expectation that we've got a resilient, robust system and the data that the board has referred to would indicate that we have something less than what we've bargained for," he said.

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