Nova Scotians are so sick of power rate increases that the parties immersed in the election campaign could get ample mileage focusing on that one issue.
At the same time, as with many election pledges, voters would do well to weigh the promises carefully and try to distinguish between what sounds too good to be true and what might be attainable.
That governments must stop treating Nova Scotia Power with kid gloves is essential – and it appears from some of the tough talk underway they’re beginning to realize that. But it’s got to go beyond talk.
Interestingly, politicians see a need for facing up to the utility, yet they’re at odds as to the way to do it.
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil vows his party would end Nova Scotia Power’s monopoly on the commodity. Most of us would love to see that, to have choice and to see competition.
Part of their plan would be enabling private renewable energy firms to build infrastructure and sell electricity directly to consumers. But renewable energy, with the capital costs of building factored in, is by no means deemed inexpensive. So even with such a plan consumers shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for lower rates.
Jamie Baillie and the Conservatives say they would freeze rates for five years. Again, that sounds appealing, but critics say that would only delay the inevitable and would result in stiff price hikes five years later.
Still, Baillie focuses on one element of NSP’s stranglehold: the guaranteed rate of return for its shareholders. That arrangement, with the burden on consumers to uphold such an artificial construct, infuriates everyone not getting a cut. The Conservatives are on the right track to condemn it.
The governing NDP deserve acknowledgment for the commitment to greater reliance on renewable resources. At the same time, if they want the backing of voters, they’ll have to do more than just say the opposition is off-base, they need to state that the free ride for the power utility is over.