A new regulation under the Public Utilities Act announced by the Houston government now gives Nova Scotia Power 18 months to address complaints from the province’s largest manufacturers or face a maximum fine of $25,000 a month.
According to background information provided by the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, the new performance standard is in response to “years of complaints” from companies such as Michelin, Lafarge, Highliner, and Oxford Frozen Foods that take their electricity directly from the grid and are unhappy about the money they lose when they experience a short-term power bump and all their equipment and systems go down. The news release from Wednesday compared the situation to the “blips” homeowners experience when a power disruption leads to resetting clocks and microwaves.
The frequency of those bumps is also an issue. This new performance standard establishes a pathway for industrial customers to complain to the UARB and sets a timeline for when Nova Scotia Power must remedy the problem. Remedies might include upgrading the quality of the transmission line or adding backup generation and if that costs Nova Scotia Power money to do it, the regulation says that cost will be shared among all ratepayers.
The UARB established performance standards around storm preparation and storm restoration efforts back in 2018 following Hurricane Arthur. Nova Scotia Power has been fined $250,000 at least twice for failing to meet them. In preparation for future performance standards the government has promised it will create, the regulation directs the UARB to gather more data about the frequency and duration of power outages based on “geographic analyses.”
Meanwhile, the Houston government has only six weeks left to deal with some big climate change and energy issues.
Nova Scotia Power could face $10 million fine
Nova Scotia Power is waiting to learn whether the Houston government — which last month passed a law temporarily restricting an increase to its 9.25% annual profit — will take bolder action. The utility could face a fine of up to a maximum of $10 million under the province’s Renewable Energy Standards legislation for failing to generate more electricity from green sources. Since last May, in quarterly reports to its shareholders, Nova Scotia Power’s parent company Emera has flagged the fact it is unlikely the company will be able to comply because of delays and under-deliveries of anticipated hydroelectricity from Muskrat Falls in Labrador.
The original target of electricity made from 40% renewables by the year 2020 was altered by the McNeil Government in May 2020 because the hydro project was late. The target was revised to an average of 40% renewable sources over three years from 2020-2022. In each of the past two years, Nova Scotia Power has generated 30% of its electricity from wind, hydro, and biomass. Nova Scotia Power spokesperson Jacqueline Foster says in 2022, 37% of electricity was generated from renewable sources as of the end of June, the first half of this year.
That’s short by a long shot. In order to be compliant with the legislation, 60% of electricity in 2022 would need to come from renewable sources. In May, Emera president Scott Balfour told the Halifax Examiner it would be “very challenging” to meet that target.
The language in Section 47 of the Renewable Energy Regulations gives the Houston government choices if Nova Scotia Power is not compliant. It can fine the company $500,000 a day up to a maximum of $10 million dollars or it can choose not to levy any fine, depending on the circumstances. It’s important to note the wording says the fine cannot be passed on to ratepayers, but must be paid by Nova Scotia Power shareholders.
On the last day the legislature was in session last week, the Examiner asked Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton what his intentions are when it comes to dealing with Nova Scotia Power for failing to meet Renewable Energy Standards. Rushton stalled, essentially saying he wants to wait and see what the company’s final percentages are before announcing any decision.
“Let me see what they have met and what they haven’t done,” Rushton said. “What they tried to achieve and what they left on the table. We passed an Affordability Bill that Nova Scotia Power wasn’t happy with. There are expectations that Nova Scotia Power has to meet standards and as a government, we expect them to. Let me see where they land and have that open conversation with Nova Scotia Power before I decide.”
The Affordability Bill Rushton mentioned deals with changes to the Public Utilities Act to limit power rate increases tied to non-fuel costs, in an attempt to keep rates from rising by more than 10% in each of the next two years.
Nova Scotians are also waiting for Ottawa to accept or reject a plan submitted by the Houston government to put a price on carbon emissions from the province’s biggest polluters, Nova Scotia Power and cement manufacturer Lafarge. Environment Minister Tim Halman has warned a rejection could up by power rates by another 8%.
Nova Scotians are already preparing for a rise in the price of gas of 14 cent a litre, as well and much higher prices for furnace oil when the federal tax on those fuels kicks in on Jan. 1, 2023. Fingers crossed the quarterly rebate cheques Ottawa will send to each household will offset most of those increases.
A recent analysis by Dalhousie electrical engineering and computer science professor Larry Hughes suggested the province should negotiate with Ottawa for a higher rebate than that offered other provinces.
The carbon tax rebates are designed to reward those who reduce their fossil fuel energy use and penalize those who do not. Of course, there will be no such rebates if the provincial government elects to divert the carbon tax into its own revenue stream.
Also, it might be time to restrict NSPI’s role to power distribution and open up generation to arm’s-length electricity suppliers. Both services would continue to be tightly regulated, but that need not get in the way of innovation. Hydro-Quebec, for example, could virtually ensure we meet our GHG targets. SNC-Lavalin says it can build a 300 MW Canadian-designed nuclear reactor in 36 months.
And the current government’s authoritarian tendencies could make it all happen in short order.