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Nova Scotia tables bill to restructure management, regulation of electricity sector

HALIFAX — New legislation introduced in Nova Scotia on Tuesday changes how the electrical grid is structured and regulated.

The Energy Reform Act would create a new regulator for public energy utilities, and a new independent operator for the electricity system.

Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said the bill "is a big step in modernizing our electricity system. It will help us achieve our climate change goals and focus on lowest cost options and help protect ratepayers while making this transition.”

The creation of the two new entities was recommended in a report released Friday by the Clean Electricity Task Force, whose two members said that structural change was necessary to spur the competition needed to replace coal, which currently accounts for about half of the province’s total electrical generation.

Nova Scotia has a legislated goal to get off coal by 2030.

The bill would change the name of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to the Regulatory and Appeals Board, which would remain responsible for all regulatory matters aside from energy. Rushton said the existing review board's mandate is "extremely broad."

“By splitting the duties … we will bring more focus and expertise to the regulation of the energy sector," he said. The new energy regulator — Nova Scotia Energy Board — will be empowered to "consider our climate change goals in their decision-making.”

The new energy system operator, meanwhile, will be a non-profit, arm's-length entity and will manage who gets access to the electrical grid — formerly the responsibility of the province’s private utility, Nova Scotia Power.

The new public operator would be responsible for the procurement of new energy sources, resulting in a system, Rushton said, that chooses the lowest-cost options for reliable electricity.

“This move will encourage new investors and more competition within this sector,” the minister said.

The plan is to have the Nova Scotia Energy Board in place in about a year and the new system operator up and running in about 18 months.

Officials said the transition would be done at “minimal cost” to the province’s electrical ratepayers, who already foot a $20-millionannualbill for Nova Scotia Power to operate and manage the grid. No job losses will result from the shift to the two new entities, Rushton said, and about 45 affected Nova Scotia Power staff will be offered jobs with the new system operator.

Other changes allow Nova Scotia Power to consider owning a nuclear generation facility, and enter into partnerships for new energy infrastructure. The bill also gives the natural resources minister the power toissue policy guidelines to the new energy board, although Rushton said the intent will not be to dictate policy or override the board’s decisions.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said his party is concerned about the impact of the changes on power rates.

“We know that this piece of legislation is going to bring with it additional costs that will be borne by ratepayers and we want to know what those impacts are going to be,” he said.

NDP energy critic Sue Leblanc said she is disappointed to see no provision related to affordability for lower-income ratepayers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press