HALIFAX - Monthly power bills in Nova Scotia could increase to foot the cost of conservation measures under an independent administrative agency set up by the province, officials said Monday.
Energy Minister Bill Estabrooks named five board members to the Efficiency Nova Scotia Corp., which is expected to take over the duties of Conserve Nova Scotia by March 31.
The board's new chairman, law professor Bill Lahey of Dalhousie University, told reporters the costs of running energy efficiency programs currently administered by Nova Scotia Power are expected to rise.
But he said conservation measures are cheaper over time because they can help the province avoid more costly actions, such as building more coal-fired generation plants.
"It may be more expensive on a month-to-month or year-to-year basis, but in the long term it's actually a good financial strategy for Nova Scotia to be following," said Lahey.
Alan Richardson of Nova Scotia Power said the programs will cost about $23 million in 2010 and are expected to become more expensive as they are expanded in 2011.
He said the province is at a point where it doesn't make sense to deviate from conservation measures because of the cost.
"Where power rates will be in five years, there are many factors that will influence that, fuel prices for example will be a dominant factor," said Richardson. "But what we can say is they (rates) will be less if we do these programs than if we don't."
Richardson added the utility would be filing a new cost for the conservation programs with the Utility and Review Board late next month and the final cost will be approved as part of a public hearing process.
The budget for Conserve Nova Scotia was about $28 million and Estabrooks said with the government only footing startup costs for the new agency, the resulting budget savings will be in the vicinity of $20 million.
Efficiency Nova Scotia Corp. was created through legislation tabled by the NDP government in the fall.
The move came two years after a report by David Wheeler of Dalhousie University recommended that an independent administrator run programs aimed at helping people and businesses reduce their use of electricity.
"Conserve has done a good job, but the advice that Dr. Wheeler brought to us was that government should be out of that business . . . that's why Efficiency Nova Scotia was created," said Estabrooks.
Meanwhile, the minister confirmed that Conserve Nova Scotia's current chief executive, Heather Foley Melvin, would have to apply for the top job at the new agency, while 15 employees would either get jobs with the new entity or elsewhere in government.
Estabrooks said the government would honour Foley Melvin's two-year contract signed last spring with the former Conservative government, which pays her $139,400 a year.
Other members named to the new board include Construction Association of Nova Scotia president Carol MacCulloch, Institute of Chartered Accountants CEO Michelle Wood-Tweel and well-known engineer and businessman Hector Jacques.
Deputy environment minister Nancy Vanstone will represent the government as a non-voting board member.