You might imagine that somewhere in its controversial, hydro-dam-blocking 3,100-page application for an electricity rate increase, Nova Scotia Power would have found even a few short paragraphs to explain how it had multiplied, divided, compared and calibrated to calculate — and justify — the compensation for its corporate executives.
You would imagine wrong.
In fact, far from explaining itself, the privately owned public utility — the same one that is expecting us to pony up 10% more for our electricity over the next three years — believes we have no right to know about such matters, including even how much most of those executives are actually paid.
“Good human resource practices and privacy legislation require NS Power to protect certain confidential personnel information from disclosure,” the power company informed the province’s Utility and Review Board, which is, in fact, the one charged with deciding such matters. “Information relating to salaries, either individually or in aggregate, that can identify an employee’s salary is board confidential.” [my italics]
For comparison, you might want to check out just how many government and public sector organizations, including even some not-for-profits, are required “to report the names and compensation of anyone paid over $100,000 during the fiscal year” — all without falling afoul of either “good human resource practices” or “privacy legislation.”
What else has the power company claimed should be subject to this “board-confidential” omerta?
Everything… at least according to Nova Scotia Power’s original application.
Let us tote up some of those items:
- executive compensation,
- the number and percentage of employees receiving a bonus,
- outside advice on executive compensation policy,
- the utility’s government lobbying efforts,
- the amount Nova Scotia Power has set aside to cover legal costs in its ongoing dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency,
- its generic approaches to cybersecurity,
- hydro dam decommissioning studies and
- even some court records that are already on the public record for the looking up…
Let’s return to the Nova Scotia Power executives and their compensation for a moment.
We already know — thanks to documents that Emera, NSP’s parent company, is required to share — that CEO Peter Gregg pocketed $804,224 last year in “base salary, share awards, share options incentives, pension value and perks.”
We don’t have even that much information for eight other senior power company executives.
There are government-imposed limits for overall executive compensation at the provincially regulated utility, which are based on the average salary of a provincial deputy minister. That cap is currently set at $2.25 million — about $250,000 each for NSP’s nine top executives — but that’s meaningless because the company then apparently stuffs their pay envelopes with undisclosed top-ups from parent company Emera.
Officially, in fact, Gregg’s Nova Scotia Power salary in 2021 was “just” $251,797. The other 79% came out of Emera’s coffers.
But wait a minute.
Is Emera really funding all this excess executive compensation out of its own “unrelated” revenues and/or out of the goodness of its generous corporate heart?
Or is this just more corporate obfuscation, jiggery-pokery, and sleight of hand?
“The basis upon which NS Power claims that its executive compensation is reasonable is the existence of the government pay plan cap,” the utility declares flatly, once again in its ex cathedra brook-no-disagreement voice of god.
But on what basis did the company decide how much its executives should really earn?
The company knows. But we can’t.
Nova Scotia Power hired Grant Thornton to come up with numbers for executive compensation as part of its rate application, but the company demanded the Utility and Review Board keep that information confidential even from intervenors at the rate hearings — even though those intervenors have already had to (and did) agree to confidentiality on other issues.
Nova Scotia Power also hired Mercer Consulting to prepare two reports that supposedly explained how the utility’s executive pay packages compared to others in the industry.
Can we at least see those?
The company is willing to release “the market comparable aggregate amount of total direct compensation that is included in the Mercer Reports” because it claims that number demonstrates “the compensation included in the General Rate Application is below market.”
Well, thanks for … nothing much.
The power company claims the rest of those reports — and everything else it doesn’t want us to know — involves commercially sensitive information or third-party proprietary information.
Shall we examine that further?
Nancy Rubin, a lawyer who represents large industrial power users, pointed out that among the “commercial information” Nova Scotia Power claimed was confidential in its application was the name of the supplier of a natural gas contract that expired a dozen years ago.
“It is unclear what ‘commercial value’ may be associated with this long-expired contract,” Rubin wrote. “In any event” — avert your eyes to avoid your brain being contaminated with privileged commercially sensitive information — “the identity of Shell, as the counterparty, has been in the public domain for decades.”
Now that the Shell is out of the bag, Nova Scotia Power says OK, fine, you can see that.
If you wanted to know what’s in those “confidential” court notices concerning NSP’s legal fight with the taxman, Rubin added, all you had to do was ask. “These documents are already in the public domain, and anyone may obtain a copy on request.”
Caught out again. Fine. OK. You can also see what you can already see anyway. “NS Power is committed to serving Nova Scotians in a transparent manner,” Blake Williams, the company’s senior regulatory lawyer, wrote.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Rubin wasn’t the only intervenor to object to the utility’s efforts to suffocate almost the entire process under a confidentiality blanket.
“The impact of NS Power’s claimed confidentiality is clear,” wrote Consumer Advocate Bill Mahody, who represents the rest of us in these proceedings. “Ratepayers are being prevented from understanding the basis upon which NS Power claims that its executive compensation is reasonable.” Without that information, he adds, “ratepayers are left with no basis to challenge the overall reasonableness of the expense.”
That, it seems, was always Nova Scotia Power’s intent.
In its response to Mahody’s arguments, the power company’s senior regulatory lawyer replied that “providing the [consumer advocate] with access to further information regarding expenses that are not proposed for inclusion in rates does not benefit this proceeding in any way. In fact, NS Power believes it would unnecessarily and inappropriately distract from the many relevant issues that are properly before the board.”
Relevant issues? Like knowing all the relevant facts to determine how much we should have to pay for electricity?
The intervenors have until Tuesday, June 7, to respond to the company’s response to their responses.
The hearing on Nova Scotia Power’s application for a rate increase is scheduled for September.