The province's regulator is being urged to deny Nova Scotia Power's request to conceal reports on executive compensation, bonuses, government lobbying activity, and even some public court records, as it seeks to raise electricity rates by 10 per cent.
Intervenors have filed objections to confidentiality claims asserted by the utility in its response to written questions posed by various parties in the rate application, which will be heard by regulators in September.
Daniel Boyle, representing the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said historically the company has not tried to withhold information on executive compensation, and warned the regulator against "establishing any precedent in this proceeding."
"While [the department] appreciates the desire of N.S. Power to shield this information, there is no reasonable justification for the executives of a business engaged in a regulated monopoly to receive top-ups to unidentified, secret ceilings," Boyle wrote in a five-page objection letter.
Consumer advocate Bill Mahody, who represents residential customers, and the industrial group representing large NSP customers also filed objections last week. The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has given Nova Scotia Power until Friday to respond.
Reports would be withheld from public, intervenors
Nova Scotia Power wants reports on executive compensation prepared by Mercer Consulting deemed "board confidential," which would keep the documents hidden not only from the public, but also from intervenors who sign an undertaking to keep the information confidential.
The reports are described as an assessment of the competitiveness of payments to utility executives. Only a portion of executive compensation — up to the level of a provincial deputy minister — is recovered in rates; the rest comes from parent company Emera.
"What we're looking for is disclosure of those reports so that we can come to an understanding as to whether or not they do justify executive compensation," Mahody told CBC News.
The province and Mahody's objections to "board only" or "super confidentiality" are supported by the industrial group and Dalhousie University, which has objected to 14 other confidentiality claims asserted by Nova Scotia Power, including:
Generic approaches to cybersecurity.
The number and percentage of employees receiving a bonus by year.
Average annual forecasted cost for legal and labour expenses in an ongoing dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency.
Hydro dam decommissioning studies.
In most cases, Nova Scotia Power says disclosure involves commercially sensitive information or third-party proprietary information.
Not justified, says lawyer
But industrial group lawyer Nancy Rubin says it's not justified. She says Nova Scotia Power redacted the name of the supplier in a long-term natural gas contract that ended in October 2010 based on "commercial information."
"It is unclear what 'commercial value' may be associated with this long-expired contract. In any event, the identity of Shell, as the counterparty, has been in the public domain for decades," she said, noting it had been thoroughly discussed by the board in 2012.
Rubin also says Nova Scotia Power wants to keep confidential various court notices filed in an ongoing dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency even though "these documents are already in the public domain and anyone may obtain a copy on request."
In a statement to CBC News, Nova Scotia Power says it supports transparency and always tries to minimize the information that requires confidential treatment.
"We are currently reviewing this request and will respond through the regulatory process," spokesperson Mina Atia said.
Province says compensation info is relevant
The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables declined to make its minister available for an interview.
Speaking for the department, Adele Poirier said in a statement "we believe executive compensation is relevant in these proceedings and this information needs to be available so that effective submissions can be made on behalf of ratepayers."
"We have confidence the [Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board] will hear all the information and deliver a decision that is fair for ratepayers," Poirier added.
Intervenors have until June 7 to respond to NSP.
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