Nova Scotia Power (NSP) recently applied to the province’s Utilities and Review Board for 3% rate increases over each of the next 2 years. In bizarrely flagrant fashion, 2 days later the publicly-traded parent company, Emera, released details of its executives’ compensation. These figures are daunting. Coupled with the millions of dollars in profits that investors take from the company every year, these figures have helped Nova Scotians become aware of the parasite that they’ve been living with since 1992.
So long as the utility is run as a private, for-profit enterprise, ratepayers will continue to furnish massive profiteering and executive compensation.
While both the Liberals and Conservatives have made their best efforts to capitalize on the malaise felt across the province, their suggested courses of action fail to admit the real issue: ownership. They would like to make political gains by treating the superficial symptoms, not the deep-seated disease.
The Conservatives, for example, have touted themselves as the champions of the people, proposing acts that would, among other things: compel NSP to divulge how much of each rate increase is cause by government policies, create a panel of citizens to review government policy as it relates to rates, require any policies that would increase rates to be approved by the legislature, and allow the Utility and Review Board (UARB) to determine the utility’s profits.
These proposals are not intended to solve our power woes. Rather, they are attempts to refocus the debate on non-issues. For example, asking the private, for-profit company to blame government policy (most of which would, of course, would be aimed at reducing rates in the long-run by promoting renewable energy sources) on rate hikes serves only to shift blame from the corporation and its executives to a sitting government that is conveniently not Conservative. These are not solutions; they are political opportunism at its worst.
(What’s more, this is the party responsible for selling the utility well below its worth, and is currently advocating lowering environmental standards and continued reliance on the volatile fossil fuel market rather than moving toward stable renewable energy sources.)
For their part, the Liberals have consistently proposed removing NSP’s monopoly status. They want to open up the market to the producers of renewable energy, which they say will make clean energy cheaper for consumers.
The obvious problems with this plan are numerous. Small producers don’t have the capital to simply start generating substantial clean, cheap power. Grid-maintenance fees will impact new producers similar the current third-party mark-ups. All the necessary institutional overlap will be extremely costly. There will be a massive race-to-the-bottom of service quality as producers battle to lower their own costs by cutting their workforce, paying their employees less, and cutting corners wherever possible. Eliminating the monopoly is not a reasonable solution to our power woes.
All of these proposals are notable for their abject inadequacy, which is buried under layers of feigned populism. They do not address the root problem: private, for-profit ownership.
To return to the medical metaphor: these parties want to treat the painful parasite suckling at Nova Scotia’s jugular vein with pain medication. Only by removing the parasite itself—full public ownership—can we affect progress. We need to treat the disease, not the symptoms.
The utility has no social mandate. Its mandate is to make profit.
So long as we have private, for-profit ownership of the utility, executive compensation and profiteering will abound.
By bringing NSP under democratic public ownership, we will be converting 100% of its profit into public goods. It will help fund schools, roads, rates, and fair collective agreements, not yachts, cars, watches and vacation homes.
It is time that Nova Scotia reversed the decision that was foisted on it in 1992. NSP is a parasite on the people of this province, and the only effective treatment will be to return it to full public ownership.
This piece originally appeared at maritimeperspective.ca.