Yesterday, Nova Scotia Power said it was delaying the start date of its proposed “System Access Charge” on ratepayers with solar panels by a year, from Feb. 1, 2022 to Feb. 1, 2023. But facing strong condemnation from the Houston government, the company is today reversing course, saying it will withdraw its application to the Utility and Review Board completely.
The move comes after the provincial government issued a statement this morning saying it will create the “necessary legislative and regulatory framework” to stop the charge from being implemented.
This afternoon, just as Premier Tim Houston was meeting (virtually) with reporters to discuss the issue, Nova Scotia Poser president Peter Gregg issued the following statement:
We respect the role of government and the UARB. Our team of 2000 employees across Nova Scotia at Nova Scotia Power have and continue to support the greening of the grid and getting off coal by 2030, a path we’ve been on for over 15 years. We are committed to working together with government and stakeholders to meet our shared climate goals.
To that end, it is clear to us that the complexity of the Solar Net Metering issue means the right decision is to withdraw our application for the System Access Charge and we will immediately take the necessary steps to do so. As we stated yesterday, it is important to us to find solutions that support the important role of renewables to achieve these climate goals, and to ensure fairness for all Nova Scotia customers, which we remain committed to doing.
Peter Gregg, NS Power President & CEO
This is a transcript of Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston’s press conference today. It’s been lightly edited for clarity.
Emma Davie with CBC: I’m wondering, first of all, do you agree with the Liberals that Bill 97 needs to be proclaimed? And will you do that?
Tim Houston: I think what we’ve shown is we’re looking carefully at the application that’s before the UARB, we’ll look at bills that might have been tabled before. My understanding on that specific bill is that a lot of the homework hadn’t been done. The department is still kind of working through regulations and stuff, but we’ll look at it. But my general message is that my focus is protecting the ratepayers of this province. That’s my only responsibility. That’s my only focus. And we’ll look at any and all tools to do that.
Emma Davie with CBC: I’m just wondering what you make of Nova Scotia Power acknowledging that in filing for the net metering charge, it didn’t factor in the benefits of carbon credits it receives from those customers.
Tim Houston: Look, Nova Scotia Power will have to answer for their actions. My only focus is on protecting the ratepayers of the province, so we’ll continue to do that. We’ll look at the application and we’ve obviously spoken about the metering aspect because there was a degree of urgency to that. I was hearing from a lot of Nova Scotians that projects were being canceled instantaneously. So there was some urgency. So we’ve spoken on that and we’ll speak on the rest. But we’re looking at every option. But Nova Scotia Power can speak for themselves about what they did and why they did it.
Alicia Draus with Global: There has been a lot of focus already on that solar fee but there’s concerns over that 10% increase to residential rates. And specifically, one of the concerns we’re hearing is that it will disproportionately impact those who are lower incomes who can’t make their homes more energy efficient. So what are your plans to address that specific issue?
Tim Houston: My position on the rates application is the same across the spectrum, it has an impact on all Nova Scotians and certainly I think we’ve been pretty clear about that we’ll at least intervene in the process on behalf of ratepayers. And we’re looking at all any and all options to explore.
Alicia Draus with Global: And just in terms of that, like you said, you’re intervening, but with the solar, you guys came forward and said you’re going to change legislation and regulations to make sure that fee can’t go forward. Why not take as strong a position when it comes to the residential rates?
Tim Houston: Who knows, we might. We’re doing the homework, we’re exploring all options. I don’t want to presuppose the outcome of this other than to say that we’ll do everything we can to protect the ratepayers in this province.
Frank Campbell with the Chronicle Herald: Did you know that the solar metering submission was part of NSP’s application to the Utility and Review Board?
Tim Houston: I did not.
Frank Campbell with the Chronicle Herald: And that said, what does that say about your partnership with the utility to try to reach renewable targets?
Tim Houston: Well, look, “partnership” is is an interesting word. I mean, my obligation is to look out for the interests of the ratepayers of the province. My obligation is to meet our renewable targets and we’ll do everything we can to do that. But Nova Scotia Power can can speak to their application, why they did what they did. I’ll speak to why I do what I do, and certainly I think hopefully Nova Scotians receive the message of how I felt of their net metering charge.
Brian Flinn with allnovascotia: I’m wondering if you could sort of walk back a little bit to what was the catalyst, what was the thing that made you step in in the way you did today?
Tim Houston: We were just hearing that there was there was an immediate impact on the solar industry. We want to green our grid more. We want to support those that are taking steps, we don’t want to discourage them. So there was part of the application that had a negative impact on those that had previously made investments and that was inappropriate in our view. So we wanted to step in as an urgent matter just to show the industry that you can proceed based on what you know, you’re not going to be penalized for investing in solar.
Brian Flinn with allnovascotia: Past premiers have been very reluctant to do what you did today. They tended to shy away from from sending as strong signal as you did when there’s a rate application; they’ve tended to say that it’s a regulated utility and the regulator needs to do their job. How far are you prepared to go? I realize you are only beginning to look at a 3,000-page document here, but how far are you prepared to go in getting involved in an exercise that that is before a regulator?
Tim Houston: Our obligation is to the ratepayers of the province. So we’re exploring all options. I mean, nothing is off the table. We’ll do our analysis and understand the options and then we’ll act. But here should be no confusion as to where our allegiance lays and thus to Nova Scotians, to the ratepayers of this province.
Tim Bousquet with the Halifax Examiner: Premier, ae you aware of or were you aware before it happened, of the reduction in the Efficiency One rebate for people who put solar panels on their house?
Tim Houston: No, I was not aware.
Tim Bousquet with the Halifax Examiner: Doesn’t this proposed rate increase argue that the decision a previous conservative government made to privatize Nova Scotia Power was a bad decision? And is there any hope to see that decision partially or fully reversed?
Tim Houston: It’s pretty hard to go back in time and put yourself in the shoes of people who made decisions 30 years ago, so I wouldn’t try to do that. I’ll leave that to people much smarter than myself. But they would have had some information at the time, they would have made their decision and that’s 30 years ago, a lot of time has passed. But what I can say going forward today, my obligation is to Nova Scotians. There’s no confusion about that. So we’ll look at what’s in front of us. But buying back the utility, I’ve heard people say that. I mean, we can run some numbers on that, but it would be, I assume, a very significant cost to the taxpayers, a very significant increase in the debt load of the province. We already know that we spend about a billion dollars a year in servicing interest on our existing debt. Every dollar that goes towards interest is a dollar that can’t be invested in health care, can’t be invested in education, can’t invest in community services, can’t invest in our roads, can’t be invested on behalf of Nova Scotians. So it’s easy to say something like that, but in practice, here in the real world, it’s a little bit more difficult than that. But we can certainly undertake those those discussions. I mean, I’m quite sincere when I say that no option is really off the table when I think about how to protect Nova Scotians.
Derek Montague with Huddle Today: [00:16:09] Hello, Premier. I was going to ask something along the lines of what Tim Bousquet mentioned, but along that same line, some people have been pointing the finger at this 9% guaranteed rate of return that is guaranteed to Nova Scotia Power. In times of economic hardship, people think it’s kind of unfair that any increase in costs due to weather damage or inflation or service costs could basically be put on to the consumer because they’re guaranteed a 9% profit or a 9% rate of return. Do you think that it’s fair that a company that basically got a pretty close to a monopoly on a utility can have a guaranteed rate of return when it’s hard to think of any other business that has a guaranteed profit margin, especially in the past two years. Do you think that they should take less profit and kind of work on the same business model most businesses have to do and have that risk?
Tim Houston: I think it’s time to look at every aspect of the relationship between Nova Scotians and Nova Scotia Power. Some of those things would have been in place. Nobody likes when their power goes out. Nobody likes when infrastructure fails. So we want to make sure that there’s proper investments being made. So there’s lots of moving parts to this equation. But what I would say is every aspect of the relationship, we’re going to take a real hard, serious look at right now.
Derek Montague with Huddle Today: I asked Nova Scotia Power for reaction to the announcement you made this morning, but I did not receive a response. Has your office or anybody else in your cabinet received a direct response from Nova Scotia Power about your decision to quash their plans to increase fees on solar and metering users?
Tim Houston: Not that I’m aware of Derek, but I haven’t canvased staff.
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Hello Examiner, Please use a different image to represent the installation of solar panels on a roof. Perhaps you are not aware but the imagine you have chosen to use twice now includes a serious safety violation. The installer is not wearing any kind of fall protection equipment. Let alone any other appropriate personal protective equipment. If your readers were to hire such a contractor they would be at risk especially if the contractor did not have proper insurance and WCB coverage etc. and if they were to fall.
Good point, Ian. Since the image was from Unsplash, taken by a photographer in the US, there’s little chance someone in Nova Scotia would hire that guy. But we’ll not use it again, unless it’s on a link to that same article.
I’ve written to Premier Houston – and would encourage others to do so – to express my support for putting a stop to this latest money grab by NSP.
This isn’t the first time NSP has tried to destroy the residential solar sector and I doubt it will be the last.