Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Power's secrecy bid hearing adjourned

A hearing determining whether Nova Scotia Power can keep blacked out sections of an audit has been adjourned and a decision has been deferred until later this year.

Audit says customers owed $22M

Peter Downard, NSP lawyer, answers questions from N.S. UARB chair Peter Gurnham. 1:43

A hearing determining whether Nova Scotia Power can keep blacked out sections of an audit secret has been adjourned and a decision has been deferred until later this year. 

The audit was commissioned by the Utility and Review Board, and conducted by the Liberty Consulting Group in July. It says Nova Scotia Power owes its customers a refund of $22 million because it paid too much for fuel over the past two years. 

Nova Scotia Power said information redacted in an audit alleging that it overcharged customers shouldn't be released because it's defamatory, would violate the privacy of employees and break contractual confidentiality.

Nova Scotia Power said information redacted in an audit alleging that it overcharged customers $22 million shouldn't be released because it's defamatory (CBC)

Peter Gurnham, chairman of the board, warned Thursday that granting Nova Scotia Power's request to keep portions of the audit secret would have a "chilling effect" on the board's ability to examine the prudence of its spending.

"One of my greatest fears is if we were to ever to agree to this, anytime anyone criticized Nova Scotia Power — that's going to be redacted because we did it in this case," said Gurnham, "And quite frankly, we're not going to read your text on defamation every time we have to make a determination of whether something has to be redacted."

"So you're asking us to set a principle here that is really quite chilling. We can't test prudence in a public forum because we might hurt somebody's feellngs."

The private utility filed an affidavit with the province's Utility and Review Board last week explaining why it believes information in the audit should remain blacked out.

Nova Scotia Power said the audit makes "outrageous allegations" and is "fundamentally flawed."

Nova Scotia's Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said ratepayers shouldn't have to take Nova Scotia Power's word that the audit should remain blacked out.

"Only when the information is in the public domain will we truly know what is in that report."

Baillie said Thursday's hearing is a larger discussion with voters about power rates.

"We have an unholy alliance between a monopoly power company and a pass the buck premier," he said.

NDP Premier Darrell Dexter has said if the audit is accurate, then Nova Scotia Power's customers should be refunded.

Nova Scotia Power has asked the Utility and Review Board to approve a three per cent rate increase for 2013 and 2014.