Electricity prices: Emera-NSPI Monopoly is the Problem

HALIFAX - - Last month, Nova Scotia Power Inc. let us know that electricity prices are going up by as much as 20 per cent over the next four years. We also heard that NSPI’s parent company, Emera, has made record profits, again. The rate hearings are scheduled for September, and fatigued Nova Scotians will once again brace themselves for the never-ending rise in NSPI’s electricity prices.

Rising coal import costs, coal plants’ depreciation and the costs of implementing renewable energy solutions are driving up electricity rates. But on top of all this, NSPI is arrogantly proposing a "return on equity" increase for investors as a way of remaining "competitive" with other utilities in North America.

Rising electricity prices are driving some Nova Scotians to choose between heating and eating, while the province struggles with the highest inflation rates in Canada.

Who is benefiting here? It’s time to face the facts: Emera-NSPI is the only game in town with a lucrative monopoly on the provincial electricity supply, and we all know that monopoly markets are bad for consumers.

Is there a better way? Yes. Local, green energy can create jobs, provide energy security and reduce our province’s carbon footprint. It’s time we considered all the options on the table to deliver local, renewable electricity that is made in Nova Scotia and delivered to Nova Scotians at increasingly stabilized prices.

We could make distributed, decentralized and domestic electricity with solar panels and windmills with support from imported Quebec hydro and innovative renewable storage technologies. Instead, we export millions of ratepayer dollars to pay for the uneconomical, unethical and unsustainable coal supply from Colombia required to light and heat our homes.

Sustainable energy solutions are urgently required, since climate change won’t wait. Nova Scotia is around 20 per cent above the goal of achieving a 10 per cent reduction from 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2020. With just nine short years left to meet our ambitious emissions goal, the focus of politicians and industry is on hydro export schemes that are decades away.

Instead of focusing on real "made in Nova Scotia solutions" to our climate and energy challenges, Lower Churchill Falls is presumptuously seen as the silver bullet to solve all the problems, without any clear evidence that it is.

There is a need for solutions that focus on the sustainability and prosperity of our province first. These include: breaking the NSPI supply monopoly, supporting more aggressive renewable uptake, and cost-effective hydro imports that lead to the conversion/closure of polluting coal plants. Radically changing how electricity is produced and the grid is managed should be emphasized in domestic strategic policy and planning for Nova Scotia’s energy future.

Increased supply competition in the Nova Scotia electricity market is urgently required for the province to rapidly transition from coal electricity to low-carbon and renewable electricity. And to do this, we need to ensure that cost-effective, renewable solutions that benefit Nova Scotians come first.

Surprising but true: Nova Scotia receives more sun than Germany, the world’s leading solar country, yet lacks any comprehensive solar policy. We could create a liberalized, open electricity supply market through more aggressive feed-in tariffs for all types of renewable procurement, including cost-effective solar as is done in Ontario.

The government could also de-couple NSPI from the NSPI-System Operator, the transmission and distribution wing of NSPI. Such third-party management of the grid is done elsewhere and supports decentralized, distributed renewable electricity. Maybe the grid could be better managed as a Crown corporation, a third party agency, or local grid co-operatives. Maybe then we could bury the lines, create jobs and solve the power outages resulting from the increasing frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes.

Large scale feed-in tariffs that provide guaranteed fixed prices for renewable energy, combined with an open and competitive Nova Scotian electricity supply market and grid access, further supported by Quebec hydro imports, could be the alternative way forward to ensure benefits for average Nova Scotian ratepayers, families and businesses. However, political will, strategic "Nova Scotia first" approaches and public support are required to bring this to reality. Emera, NSPI and the government must demonstrate the coherent plan for reducing our carbon footprint 20 per cent by 2020.

Brennan Vogel is climate change and energy co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.



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