Protesters rail against Nova Scotia Power bills, profits
Russell Farrell is angry and frustrated with his electricity provider.
“I live in Dartmouth, not the North Pole,” Farrell said of Nova Scotia Power bills that have shocked him since he purchased and moved into a Waverley Road area house last September.
He got a two-month bill for $926.66 for his small three-bedroom, two-storey house that is 30-by-17 feet. The bill after that was more than $700 and the most recent one fell to $400.
Farrell said he expected the electric base-board heating to be a bit expensive but he works five days a week, heats only the rooms he is using, doesn’t use the dishwater and turns the heat way down or off at night.
“I don’t see how it can be that much.”
Farrell was at a rally Saturday afternoon to protest high Nova Scotia Power rates and bills.
“It gets even more ridiculous with all the excuses you get. Winter came early, it was a long winter. I planted my bulbs at the end of November, the ground hadn’t frozen. ... After that bill, I just turned the heat off. My plants didn’t survive and I had a pipe burst in the basement. They can’t tell me that the bill is normally that high.”
He complained to the company and NSP suggested he could have his meter tested. NSP told him that in order to remove the meter that is more than eight feet off the ground and test it at their facility, he would first have to move a shed.
Farrell said the shed was not an issue for the 37 years that the house has been on the lot and he doesn’t trust the company to test the meter, anyway.
“They can remove it, test it and bring it back and say your meter is working fine. How do I know that? These are tactics to discourage me from continuing with that complaint. That’s what this whole process has been about.”
Those are the kinds of complaints and processes that Chelsea Sawatzky, a young Dartmouth woman who is a Lower Power Rates Alliance volunteer, had in mind when she organized the rally for the Grand Parade in front of Halifax City Hall.
“We want to stop rate increases completely. Nova Scotia people are struggling, people are living in energy poverty.”
- Chelsea Sawatzky, Lower Power Rates Alliance
Nova Scotia Power is permitted to earn a minimum 8.75 per cent annual profit and a maximum of 9.25 per cent under rules established by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
According to an explanation of what NSP calls return on equity on its website, those profits aren't guaranteed and are not always achieved.
Regardless, Sawatzky said NSP's profit's should be capped at one per cent over the Nova Scotian inflation rate. In this past year, the profit percentage would be closer to two per cent.
“We want to stop rate increases completely. Nova Scotia people are struggling, people are living in energy poverty,” Sawatzky said.
Last month, NSP applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for residential rate increases of 1.5 per cent in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
“You can see how that can affect people if their wages aren’t going up incrementally as much as the power rates.”
Sawatzky said Emera reported an income of $224 million in the first quarter of 2019, crediting strong NSP results tied to power rate hikes.
“When the power company themselves are admitting that they are getting rich off rate increases, I think we need to step in and do something. They are a business. Their goal for that business is to make money for their shareholders. The goal of the government should be to regulate and legislate.”
Sawatzky said the way to effect change is to contact your MLA and keep badgering them. She calls for a regional power hub that would have power generated collectively by all four Atlantic provinces from the cheapest sources and sold to customers accordingly. She said renewable energy should be sold directly to customers without going through the NSP grid and that NSP applications should be written in simple language that everyone can understand, not in legalese that only lawyers can decipher.
Gary Burrill, the leader of the New Democratic Party, said NSP’s almost incomprehensible submissions hide the plain numbers.
“$3 billion, that’s the amount of money that has been paid out in dividends to the private shareholders in profits of Nova Scotia Power and Emera since the power utility passed from public hands in Nova Scotia to become a private profit-making corporation (in 1993),” Burrill said. “That could buy a lot of nursing homes, build a lot of hospitals and could certainly pay a lot of specialists and health-care workers.
Burrill said Emera chief executive officer Scott Balfour is paid $6.12 million annually while 38 per cent of Nova Scotians say they struggle to pay their power bills.
Brian Gifford, chairman of the Affordable Energy Coalition, said low-income Nova Scotians are most affected by energy poverty.
“They are the people who sometimes much choose between heating and eating or between medical bills and light bills,” Gifford said. “They pay twice as much of their income on home energy as the average Nova Scotian and three times as much as high-income Nova Scotians. Low-income measures are needed to make sure that everyone has access to electricity as a basic need.”