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A story that chills, written on power bills

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
A story that chills, written on power bills

On a cold January night in Halifax, a scene is played out that could be in any number of overpriced slum dwellings throughout the city.

A single mother glances across the kitchen at her child sitting at the table, waiting for dinner. She takes a break from stirring to look at the Nova Scotia Power bill stuck to the fridge. The condensation of her breath is visible between her mouth and the bill. She is one of many poor in Nova Scotia who chose meagerly feeding her family over heating her poorly insulated living space.

Across town, another replicating scene, but from across the class divide.

Wine glasses clink. All in the room are wearing suits. Nova Scotia Power executives are toasting to another highly successful year. No one sees their breath, but all can see their satisfied faces in the reflections on their wine glasses. When they leave the conference room, leftover food is everywhere.

This is the stark contrast between those who have the power company, and those who hold the bills in their numb hands.

On January 1st, 2011, it is expected that Nova Scotia Power Incorporated (NSPI) – the private company that delivers power to over 480,000 “customers” in Nova Scotia – will be granted yet another rate increase. The modified proposal – sitting before the servile Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board – will be for a 6.5% rate increase to be put on the backs of residential customers. The company originally wanted a 12% increase from residential customers, as stated this summer, their justification being to “offset the cost of clean-burning coal.”

Environmental excuses to try and justify the desire for a bigger pile of money are quite en vogue.

The narrative around the rate increase is interwoven with positive financial news for NSPI, made known to the public on November 5th. NSPI's parent company, Emera, reported record earnings of over $44 million in third quarter results of this year. This is all taking place while we are living in the time of a major downturn in global capitalism.

That downturn is inseparable from the message recently given by the Premier to every department in the Nova Scotia Government and the provinces municipalities: prepare to tighten your belts.

But companies like Emera can loosen theirs. They shelter themselves from the chill of the crisis. How? On account of the fact that their greatest asset, NSPI, has a monopoly over an essential service, so people continue to pay, even if it further strains them. And it does. While the cost of power exceeds the rate of inflation, stagnant wages are being drowned in the rising tide of prices.

The publicly insured success of NS Power through tough times is just one amongst many snapshots of how working and poor people are shouldering the burden of the crisis. We are made to hoist up giants like Emera through ever-fattening bill payments, irrespective of our own economic conditions.

But at what point did the public enter into such relations with the company? And exactly how much has the Emera(ld) empire benefited from its non-consensual customers?

The story is written on power bills.

NSPI was once a * public utility, but that changed under the Donald Cameron Government of the 1990s. Amidst a frenzy of privatization across the country, that of Nova Scotia Power was then the largest of them all. The privatization officially took place on August 12, 1992, when all the electric utility assets of the provincially owned Nova Scotia Power Corporation were sold to Nova Scotia Power Inc. The company got a great deal, which included leaving the public responsible for the debt that the former company had accumulated.

Then, in January 1999, the company began a move for major expansion. Ownership of Nova Scotia Power Inc (NSPI) was transferred to a new company, NS Power Holdings Inc (NSPH). Then, NSPI shares transferred from the previous owners (individuals, pension funds, etc.) to NSPH, with NSPI becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of NSPH. Finally, on 17 July 2000, NSPH changed its name to Emera Inc.

And the newly branded parent of NSPI would soon have more than an only child.

Today, Emera owns not only Nova Scotia Power Inc, but all or part of: Bangor Hydro, Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, Brunswick Pipeline, St. Lucia Electricity Limited and a number of other companies. All told, their assets are worth well over $5 billion.

The bill payments represent the keystone for the whole empire that they've built. Through extracting money from Nova Scotians, the company increased its wealth substantially. Since 1992, they have increased the power rates by about 40%, with about 9% of the increase taking place within the last 2 years. Another one is soon to arrive. Without those increasingly large power bills, they never would have had the means to acquire or create their other assets.

It is of note that Bangor Hydro and both of Emera's pipeline companies also reported large increases in earnings compared with last year.

Of course, none of the increased returns make their way to those who enabled them: the company's workers and the “customers”. Such are the cruel relations of capitalism. We don't own the means of production, but one way or another, we pay for them.

And we are going to continue to pay for Nova Scotia Power's investments.

As winter blends into spring, and the dampness of the Nova Scotia air seems to extend the winter's chill, the days may seem a little colder this year. It is in March 2011 when Nova Scotia Power expects to be moving into their new $53.4 million “energy efficient” headquarters. The costs of the building, it has been made clear, will be borne from increases in power bills. And to top it off, Nova Scotia Power's parent company, Emera, will also be housed in this building. Yes, we will also be covering their rent.

No doubt, Nova Scotia Power and the rest of the Emera family will be ready to toast the opening of their well heated building – with publicly supported fanfare – while much of rest of the province continues to chill. In their shiny wine glasses, the Emeralds will hope to see a reflection of satisfaction. But these glasses are fragile. In the conditions that enabled their massive wealth are also those that can shatter it.

This second story is written on the power bills, and on paycheques

 

* NOTE: “Public” is a euphemism. If “public” means the people of Nova Scotia, how is it that the assets could be sold to a private entity without some actually public process, and consent? The fact is, “we” never owned it. Neither those who use the essential service, nor the company's workers ever did control it. “Public” is thus a very vague concept. A more meaningful term is communal control, which never did exist with regards to Nova Scotia Power.


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1126 words

Comments

(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap) Thos

(clap)(clap)(clap)(clap)

Those who point out the carcinogenic nature of Nova Scotia Power deserve to be rewarded.

I believe that the regulations surrounding the essential service dictate that the private company be guaranteed a 9% return on investment each year.  This means that when they spend money, they earn money.  It is essentially becoming a large financial micro-bank to be invested into by mutual funds and the like for a "reasonable" return on investment.

What this translates to is pure and simple:

If you invest in Nova Scotia Power, you don't to sweat the rate hikes.

On a side note, many Nova Scotia Power investors are likely weatherstipping their homes this time of year in order to increase their net return on investment, in light of the impending rate hikes.

I wrote a similar article once:

http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/blog/macdonaldtomw/4407

 

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