Let’s start with this news item from October 31, 2023:

Nova Scotia Power asked regulators for permission to collect $24.6 million in Fiona-related operating costs — like meals, travel and overtime — from ratepayers over an unspecified period of time… “If costs from Hurricane Fiona cannot be deferred, they will need to be expensed in the current period, which precludes N.S. Power from being able to recover its prudently incurred costs,” Nova Scotia Power told regulators. “This would have a significant impact on the financial health of the utility.” (Emphasis added)

The short version: they want us to pay so that company shareholders can continue to enjoy their guaranteed profits.

What is it they want us to pay for? Their failures. 

Consider this, from an August 17, 2023, story by my colleague, Jennifer Henderson:

Nova Scotia Power must pay a fine of $750,000 for failing to meet performance targets in 2022 … 

Last year was the sixth consecutive year that Nova Scotia Power failed to meet certain metrics. The penalty is double the $350,000 the company was charged in 2021 but well short of the $25 million maximum contained in an amendment to the Public Utilities Act passed by the Houston government last April… 

Of 14 established performance standards, the utility did not meet five designed to improve reliability and customer service.

In its decision, the Utilities and Review Board wrote:

As previously stated by the Board, customers are entitled to receive an appropriate level of service for the rates and fees they are charged by the utility. It is not acceptable that non-compliance of the performance standards has become a normal occurrence…

[D]espite the changing climate, the need for a reliable electrical grid is at least as important (and likely more important) than ever. If more frequent and damaging storms are becoming the ‘new normal’, NS Power needs to ensure that its performance, not just its investment plans, keeps up with these changes.

…The UARB reviews performance standards annually. Next year, the regulator says failing to meet performance standards in 2023 could cost the utility up to $25 million in fines as a result of a change to the Public Utilities Act. 

In June 2020, after the UARB had ordered Nova Scotia Power to refund customers $250,000 for failing — still/again — to live up to performance standards around service and reliability in the previous year, Henderson reported:

“Weather intensity is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an anomaly, since it has been observed for several years,” according to the written UARB decision signed by chair Peter Gurnham, vice-chair Roland Deveau, and board member Stephen Murphy. “With that knowledge, it is incumbent upon NS Power to ensure that it has taken sufficient measures to improve the resiliency of its network to withstand higher stresses and improve, or at least maintain, overall service reliability. Performance standards were established to promote continuous improvement. Changing weather patterns should be viewed as a challenge for improving performance, not as a reason for accepting deteriorating performance levels.”

And then there’s this, from a column I wrote in November 2021:

Rather than doubling efforts to improve its customer service and reliability, Nova Scotia Power’s deep thinkers have quadrupled down on a campaign to convince the provincial regulator to loosen those standards instead to ones they might actually be able to meet without breaking a sweat or — more importantly — wasting a lot of customer revenue that could be better spent on executive salaries and corporate dividends.

So, what about last month’s request by Nova Scotia Power that I noted at the beginning of this column? 

If the UARB agrees, it means NSP customers — us — will be on the hook for another $25 million so that shareholders of our private monopoly electric utility can continue to receive their guaranteed 8.75% return on equity.

Recall that the company’s ongoing failures to provide reliable electrical service dates back to at least post-tropical storm Arthur in 2014 when 250,000 of 400,000 customers were left in the dark for up to a week because “the winds were higher than predicted.”

In 2016, the UARB established a set of more than a dozen performance and customer service benchmarks it ordered the company to meet. Those included everything from the frequency and length of power interruptions to the percentage of customer bills the company could estimate.

The company has failed to meet even half of those benchmarks every year since.

And yet its shareholders still pocket their 8.5%, thank you very much.

So far, the UARB has barely brushed air past the company’s wrist with fines that would be personal chump change for some of its Emera parent company’s top executives.

It’s past time for the UARB to demand accountability from our cossetted utility company, time to say a flat no to Nova Scotia Power’s current $25 million request, time to use its new powers to fine the company the maximum $25 million for its next round of reliability failures, and time to tell shareholders they won’t get their guaranteed return on investment again until the company delivers the service Nova Scotians have a right to expect.

Now that might finally get their attention.

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. 1 – The base rate the provincial government granted NSPower, includes paying a base rate monthly, with power completely turned off (I know, I pay roughly a $90 seasonal power bill with the power completely off)
    This this money is necessary to upgrade and keep things running. So, the infrastructure around me, has not changed, not even a power meter, in 40 years, tree trimming didn’t happen, and we see them apply for NS UARB price adjustments and raises. Do they not spend any of their own money on their primary responsibilities?

    2- False public assurances of NSP excellence. The published standard that they submit to UARB is misleading and outright misinformation. When confronted, they take things down that others will reference as their own statements of quality
    IE: 17 safety awards were listed on their website, while claiming an unsafe condition existed for 10 years, but they got awards? So they took the page away from being shamed by it.

    3-Objective evidence. (for privacy, address not shown) Screen capture it before they take it down.
    A new NS resident (my neighbour) had the mast torn off in Fiona. Paid $4000 to an electrician to meet NSP requirements for a new install. It took longer than you can imagine, he had no power for months, and weather was getting colder. On the install date there was a no show. Instead of coming the next available date, they reset a date 2 weeks later, now 15 days off their posted performance standard.
    https://www.nspower.ca/about-us/performance-standards UARB submitted Performance Target – Top row is applicable NEW SERVICE, with no poles, trees etc (existed before, only the mast needed repair, poles were there) shows 3 days to connect a new connection, and is presented to the UARB like that. I witnessed failure to show up on the date, booked weeks before, and excuses, it was windy that day? HELLO? They work in storms to restore power, I was there, I was on a roof working, there was no dangerous wind, or I would not be there. So, three day goal, missed installation date, and rescheduled 2 weeks later? That’s 14 days from their advertised target rate posted on that link, with UARB blessing. They didn’t come 20% close to that target rate. No one noticed? When they apply for a raise, they will get it. No one questions the monopoly or holds them to their own standards. Rant done.

  2. I received a ‘special offer’ yesterday via email from NS Power to participate in their ‘exclusive Rate Plan Pilot Program’. According to the email I can select from two billing plans: ‘Critical Peak Plan’ or ‘Time-of-use-Plan’. The ‘Time-of-use-Plan’ has been an option for rate-payers for awhile, but The Critical Peak Plan is what caught my eye. NS Power outlines it as follows:
    ‘On winter weekdays, when the electrical grid is at peak capacity, a “Critical Peak event” may be announced where prices are higher to reflect the higher cost of providing energy during those hours.
    Critical Peak Events:
    1. Can occur between November 1st and March 31st with a maximum of 18 total events.
    2. Are limited to three events per week.
    3. Last for four hours anytime between 6:00 am and 11:00 pm.
    4. Can occur on weekdays and up to three on weekends, but never on statutory holidays.
    5. Will be communicated by email and/or text by 4:00 pm the day before and then again once the event starts.’
    The rate per kilowatt hour for ‘Peak Events’ is $1.42.
    The rate per kilowatt hour is .14 cents for off-peak hours.
    My question is: Why is NS Power ‘piloting’ this ‘Peak Events’ program? Is this a prelude to bringing in a ‘Peak Events’ billing scheme across all rate payers? Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone would be willing to sign up for such a pilot, apart from non-residents and vampires. Something smells very fishy with this ‘Exclusive Pilot Offer’.

  3. S. Kimber nails it. It amazes me that successive governments have failed to correct the absolutely insane legislation that guaranteed shareholder profit. Laws can change – this one must!

  4. In early October 1974, there was a mess of rain followed by perhaps a foot of snow. Parts of the Annapolis Valley were without power.

    My aunt & uncle had 2 large freezers in there farm house. I recently asked how they kept them frozen. They took the freezers to a warehouse that had power and left them plugged in there for a week. I’m not sure if backup power or from NS Power’s predecessor

  5. Let’s try this option
    Maybe the executives of NSP and the related companies could pay the 25 million from the last decades of bonuses that has made them very rich in the NON COMPETITIVE environment they operate in. In real business there is competition for this “protected enterprise” they have a almost 100% monopoly in Nova Scotia protected by the NS government and the toothless URB. Real business executives deserves and earn bonuses this group do not deserve the same as they play by far different rules and realistically just have to show.

  6. It’s crazy that NS Power was privatized all those years ago. It’s worse that Nova Scotians have paid for a guaranteed rate of return for NSP shareholders. We have terrible service and the useless UARB just rewards NSP for it. They stick us with the cost of the crappy service and when extra has to be spent due the crappy service being out and in need of repair. Time to take back NSP !! At least, it’s well beyond time that the UARB make them pay for their failures instead of us. Fine them to the max and then double it again.