Rising fuel costs zapping power utility

BRIDGEWATER, NOVA SCOTIA - Rising fuel prices are zapping Nova Scotia Power's pocketbook and are behind the utility's latest application to hike rates.

Volatile world petroleum costs are impacting the price of fuel and putting pressure on the bottom line, suggested Rob Bennett, Nova Scotia Power's new president and chief executive officer.

"It's obvious that we need to recover these real costs we incur in the process of producing electricity for Nova Scotians and that's what the upcoming rate hearing is all about," he said during a speech to Bridgewater-area business leaders.

The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board will hear Nova Scotia Power's request for a 12.1 per cent rate hike on September 15. The increase would become effective by January 1, 2009.

The company is producing multi-million-dollar profits but feels customers will be understanding of their request.

"The company has performed very well in the first half of this year but we will really need that momentum to carry us through to an average year's performance by the end of 2008 and that's primarily because we're seeing the impact of increasing fuel costs now in our business," he told this newspaper after his address.

"Nobody wants to see rates go up. Nobody is happy when prices increase but certainly people recognize that the cost of fuel in the world as we know it today has changed dramatically."

Seven weeks into his new position, Mr. Bennett has been speaking to chambers of commerce about the challenges ahead facing Nova Scotia Power. One of the steepest learning curves for him has been getting used to the public profile this latest rate hearing has assumed.

He said the utility wants to be fair and open to its customers and shareholders and be effective in the long term. That's where Mr. Bennett feels wind energy "holds the most immediate promise" with its accessibility and competitive pricing.

They are also eyeing the Bay of Fundy for tidal generation.

Mr. Bennett said to look for Nova Scotia Power to take the lead in helping its customers save money by using less electricity.

"The most important thing that I can reinforce with customers is the importance of conservation and energy efficiency," he said.


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