People attending a Nova Scotia Power meeting on Friday expressed their concerns with escalating power rates.
AMHERST – As it moves forward Nova Scotia Power needs to be more conscious of the cost pressures facing its customers and how it’s impacting on the competitiveness of business.
That was one of the messages that came out of an open forum hosted by the power company and the Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce that sought input on the company’s integrated resource plan.
“We’re always conscious of the affordability for our customers and here in Nova Scotia were trying to be as effective as we can be and provide good reliability going forward,” Nova Scotia Power’s vice-president of power generation and delivery Mark Sidebottom said after the 90-minute luncheon.
The integrated resource plan will provide the power company with a 10 to 25-year approach to supplying affordable electricity to customers while fulfilling environmental and regulatory responsibilities in the face of fuel and technology uncertainties.
One of the issues facing the power company today, he said, is its continued reliance on coal at a time when the price of coal continues to climb. The company has made a commitment to switch to renewable energy sources like wind and tidal power, but they take time to implement and come with a significant price tag.
Sidebottom said renewable energy won’t necessarily lower power costs, but they will stabilize them over time.
Some of the feedback from those attending the session including holding face to face meetings with customers and to avoid using technical terms when communicating. Leslie Childs said there are a lot of people in Nova Scotia who have difficulty reading and writing effectively. That makes it difficult for them to comprehend the mailouts and marketing campaigns done by the power company.
Amherst’s director of Community and Economic Development Roger MacIsaac said another difficulty is trying to attract jobs to Nova Scotia when things like power rates are lower elsewhere.
Cumberland North Liberal MLA Terry Farrell also questioned the company’s guaranteed rate of return for investors, adding he thinks that is helping keep power rates higher than they should be.
Sidebottom said keeping rates as low as they can be has always been the company’s desire, but is facing numerous challenges to do so including rising coal prices.
“One thing we are hearing at these session is our customers expect us to keep power rates as low as possible. It’s something we’re hearing loud and clear,” Sidebottom said.
Others in attendance suggested looking for other renewable energy sources like solar power. Sidebottom said it’s a great suggestion, but there are problems with renewable energy including the immense capital needed to build the system, but also the wind isn’t always blowing and the sun not always shining during peak times.
On the subject or reliability, Sidebottom said the company has been working to improve its system over the past decade and has invested millions. He cautioned the damage caused by post-tropical storm Arthur was unusual and shows there’s still more work to be done.
“We’ve spent more than $90 million making the system more reliable and up until last weekend we’ve had our best two years with outages, considering we’ve had more than the normal amount of bad storms,” he said. “It shows that no matter what we do we’re still susceptible to very big events. It’s shows we can do a lot more, but we’ll always be susceptible to events like Arthur.”
One suggestion made was to work with municipal units about what species of trees to replace the ones lost to the storm, while another suggestion was made about burying power lines – something Sidebottom sounds good at first but is enormously expensive.
Sidebottom also said the company is also trying to be more innovative to find better ways to generate electricity in a more cost-effective manner. He also said, from what he heard at the meeting, that making people more self-aware of their energy consumption could help control cost.