Problems with your power? This utility board can help

·2 min read

Paul Allen, the executive director of Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board, says most people don't understand the role the regulator can play in helping solve problems with Nova Scotia Power.

This week, CBC Nova Scotia revealed there was an unplanned power outage somewhere in the province every day in 2020.

People have told CBC since then they don't know where to turn for help if they are in an area with repeated outages.

Allen said a customer must take a complaint to Nova Scotia Power first. But, if the problem continues, they can turn to the board for help.

"If a customer feels that they're being discriminated against in terms of not being provided service or maybe they feel they've been charged incorrect power rates, the board has the ability to give some direction to the utility to fix those sorts of things," he said.

The UARB will also accept complaints about chronic outages. But some things are out of the regulator's control.

"The board is not able to deal with billing disputes where it's just a matter of the customer doesn't have the ability to pay."

In 2016, changes to the Public Utilities Act gave the UARB the ability to set performance standards with the utility.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

The performance standards examine three key areas:

  • reliability, which covers routine outages.

  • responses to adverse weather, which includes the length of outages after a major weather event.

  • customer service, which includes general communications.

When Nova Scotia Power failed to meet performance standards in 2019, the UARB made it pay a $250,000 penalty. It has the power to issue penalties up to $1 million.

The results of the 2020 performance standards are expected next month. Nova Scotia Power told CBC in late December that it was on track to meet them.

The standards also examine the bottom five feeder lines.

"If a feeder is on that list for two consecutive years, it's labelled as a problem circuit," Allen said. "Any problem circuits that is among the worst five for the third consecutive year is labelled a chronic circuit. It can attract some of those administrative penalties."

Wide mandate

There are limits to the board's powers.

"The board does have some other powers to direct the company to do things or stop doing things depending on the nature of what the complaint is," said Allen. "The board can only do what is allowed under the Public Utilities Act. We can't go beyond that."

Allen urged anyone with questions to call the UARB, and not be intimidated by the process.

The UARB has mandates covering everything from payday loans to the bridge commission.

But, out of everything, the most calls it gets isn't electricity, but another issue that affects nearly all Nova Scotians.

"Our No. 1 area for calls is gasoline and diesel oil prices," said Allen.