Nova Scotia

Proposed legislation would limit rate increases for Nova Scotia Power

Nova Scotians should prepare for a potentially significant jump in power rates, but it won’t be to increase profits for Nova Scotia Power, says Natural Resources minister.

NSP says new law would hurt its plans to improve reliability of electrical system

Nova Scotia Power crews making repairs and replacing equipment to restore power. Post-tropical storm Fiona threw trees onto electrical lines in many parts of the province in September, leaving thousands of customers in the dark. (Nova Scotia Power/Twitter)

Nova Scotians should prepare for a potentially significant jump in power rates, but it won't be to increase profits for Nova Scotia Power, if legislation proposed Wednesday is passed.

Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton tabled amendments to the Public Utilities Act on Wednesday that heads off a proposed rate increase Nova Scotia Power is seeking from the Utility and Review Board.

"For the next two years, we are controlling what we can control," Rushton told reporters during a bill briefing.

"With this legislation, we are giving the UARB the tools they need to ensure Nova Scotians pay the lowest cost possible for their power."

While the legislation would limit the potential increase to 1.8 per cent over two years, it does not address the effect major increases in fuel costs could have on rates. NSP recently tabled documents with the utility board showing residential rates could go up by 23 to 25 per cent over the next three years without some form of mitigation.

Rushton said fuel is an "unavoidable" cost that everyone, including the power corp, must deal with. He said the government is trying to soften the blow. The province recently provided relief to Nova Scotia Power related to its requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in an estimated $165 million in savings.

"We made a dent in it, but government cannot foot the whole bill," said Rushton.

The allowable rate increase is estimated to be worth $25 million to $30 million, all of which must go toward increasing service reliability including better management of trees. Rushton said about 90 per cent of power outages are caused by trees falling on power lines.

Nova Scotia Power's president said in a statement that the government's proposed legislation is an attempt to override the independence of the province's Utility and Review Board. (CBC)

The amendments will also prevent the UARB from being able to approve Nova Scotia Power's requests to increase its rate of return, or keep any excess profits. 

Rushton said private businesses need to make a profit, "but now is not the time for a utility to be looking for more."

The government has previously resisted calls from opposition politicians to act sooner, saying it wanted to allow the general rate application process to play out. The UARB is expected to rule on the application later this year.

In a statement, Nova Scotia Power president Peter Gregg said utility officials are "disappointed and concerned that the Government of Nova Scotia would use legislation to override what is meant to be a politically independent process."

"As part of our rate application, we requested over $500 million to strengthen our energy infrastructure and fund 60 new front-line jobs directly related to reliability," Gregg said in the statement.

Nova Scotia Power is moving away from coal-fired electricity to renewable sources such as wind. The company says they won't be able to meet climate-change goals if the government passes a new law proposed Wednesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"Today's proposed legislation limits this planned investment and the amount of storm preparedness and system hardening we can do in the province."

Gregg also said the measure threatens the company's ability to meet legislated greenhouse gas reduction targets that include ending the use of coal to generate electricity and generating 80 per cent of power from renewable sources by 2030.

Rushton said he expects Nova Scotia Power to meet those targets.

"Every business in Nova Scotia, every business in Canada is facing high inflation. Every business is making hard decisions to see themselves over those hurdles and I would expect Nova Scotia Power to do no different."

Liberal environment and climate change critic Iain Rankin said the limit on rate increases is a start, but the government must find more ways to reduce the effects of rising fuel costs.

"It's kind of late. They waited for a [general rate application] hearing to start. I'm not sure why that is, but it's a step in the right direction."

Rankin said dealing with fuel costs will be a challenge, and so it's even more vital to make a quick transition to renewable energy.

"Nova Scotia Power, I think, does own some of that responsibility. They've relied on coal for a long time. I think that they could have acted quicker."

NDP environment and climate change critic Susan Leblanc said the legislation is only a temporary measure and will still lead to some people having to choose between paying their rent or their power bill.

Leblanc said the bill does present time to find ways to keep power rates as affordable as possible while making good on the province's environmental commitments.

"We have to get off coal by 2030 and we have to green our grid and that is going to cost money," she told reporters.

"We have to figure out ways of making sure that that can be done by the dates that we need to do them by."


Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at


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