Soaring electricity bills key election issue
Sep 15, 2013 / 8:25 am
While it may be true that the typical provincial election focuses on jobs, the economy and leadership, another theme emerged as a key issue during the first week of the Nova Scotia election campaign: rising electricity rates.
And it's not hard to see why.
The province's residents pay among the highest power bills in the country, and the private company that generates most of the electricity, Nova Scotia Power Inc., has posted higher profits every year since 2009 — the same year the New Democrats were elected to govern the province for the first time.
On the doorstep, candidates are getting an earful about electricity.
"I know there's frustration out there, worry about the rising cost of electricity," says Energy Minister Charlie Parker.
That might be an understatement.
Last year, there was public outrage when the utility sought another rate increase and ratepayers learned the compensation package for Nova Scotia Power CEO Rob Bennett had risen 23 per cent to $1.15 million. Then, a day after the rate application, utility executives threw themselves a party on the Halifax waterfront.
Halifax columnist Gail Lethbridge captured the seething sense of public anger: "It’s too bad Nova Scotia Power couldn't attach a turbine to the steam that came blasting out of people’s heads."
It's the kind of pocketbook issue that can be lethal for the party in power, and the opposition Liberals and Progressive Conservatives know it.
For Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil, the perceived front-runner in the campaign leading to an Oct. 8 vote, the solution can be summed up in one voter-friendly phrase: "A Liberal government will break Nova Scotia Power's monopoly."
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie has another approach: a five-year rate freeze.
As for NDP Premier Darrell Dexter, his majority government has committed the province to getting 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020, setting one of North America's most aggressive green energy targets.
Though the premier admits there are added costs to shedding the province's reliance on coal-fired plants, Dexter says the long-term payoff will be stable rates and more green jobs.
The centrepiece of his strategy is the $1.5-billion Maritime Link, which involves construction of undersea cables that will deliver electricity from the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.
Nova Scotia's opposition parties both support the project, but the Liberals and Conservatives say the deal is flawed because Nova Scotians still don't know how much they will be paying for the electricity.
David Stuewe, a business professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says the government is on the right track.
"Renewable energy strategies can start to pay some long-term benefits," he says. "Nobody has really said they're not in favour of Muskrat Falls. And the public understands that we have to deal with this problem."
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