The provincial government should pursue options other than ratepayers to cover costs associated with new performance standards placed on Nova Scotia Power, according to Liberal environment critic Iain Rankin.
"They're a regulated utility that can legally put costs onto consumers and there's no protection for consumers in this," Rankin said in an interview Friday.
"We only have limited options and the federal government is the biggest option available to us to mitigate those costs."
On Tuesday, Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton announced new measures aimed at ensuring more reliable power delivery to large industrial customers.
The performance standards require Nova Scotia Power to explore options such as industrial-scale batteries as part of steps to address customer concerns about the effect brief power interruptions have on business operations for large players such as Port Hawkesbury Paper, Highliner, Michelin and LaFarge.
That's a good thing, said Rankin, but he's less enthused that the performance standard allows for the cost of any service upgrades to be passed on to all customers of the utility.
Rankin said the province should instead be turning to Ottawa for help through a variety of funds that support green, renewable energy projects.
"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.
"I think sometimes politicians like megaprojects and they want to make a large billion-dollar announcement when we could be making progress now."
A spokesperson for the Natural Resources and Renewables Department said Nova Scotia Power would need to apply to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to get approval to pass on any costs to ratepayers.
Previous support from Ottawa
Patricia Jreige noted the province got $255 million from Ottawa this summer to go toward clean energy projects.
"Of these funds almost half will be dedicated to new wind power projects to help provide power to homes in the province," Jreige said in an email.
"The remainder of the funds are earmarked for four battery sites across Nova Scotia that will be used to store clean energy."
But Rankin said there is more the province could be doing. He called on the government to tap into money that's available through the smart renewables fund and the clean power fund, steps he said can help the province achieve its targets for phasing out the use of coal to generate electricity by 2030 and increase the use of renewable energy sources.
Rankin said the clean power fund is especially valuable because it can be used to upgrade transmission lines, a vital step to improving infrastructure connecting Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that will be necessary if the long-discussed Atlantic Loop project is to become a reality.
Potential long-term impacts of rate cap
The Loop would bring hydroelectric power from Labrador and Quebec into the Maritimes via upgraded transmission lines in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Although the project is far from a done deal, officials with the federal government recently signalled their commitment to finding a way to help make the project a reality.
An added wrinkle in that process, however, is the ongoing saber rattling involving the Nova Scotia government, Nova Scotia Power and its parent, Emera.
Premier Tim Houston's government passed legislation this month capping the general rate increase the UARB can award Nova Scotia Power at 1.8 per cent for the next two years.
Emera and Nova Scotia Power have countered that the cap means the utility will not be able to raise the kind of capital required for major infrastructure projects, including the Atlantic Loop, and that such investments are being paused to focus instead on other jurisdictions where Emera does business. Emera officials have said the pause would also apply to battery and wind projects.
Rankin, a former premier, who also held the environment and natural resources portfolios at different times as a member of a former Liberal government, said he's concerned the approach used by the Tory government will only lead to much larger increases for customers further down the road, while jeopardizing climate change reduction targets.
"From my experience, I think you can get a lot more done by trying to work with the federal government and, at times, with the utility to try to get the best outcome," he said.
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