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Nova Scotia's electricity system needs real review, not foregone conclusion

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So Energy Minister Andrew Younger is launching a year-long review of Nova Scotia's electricity system. Although energy supply and demand are supposedly both on the table, Younger has already made clear his obsession with cutting power rates, not reducing energy demand.

During the last election campaign, Younger offered two concrete proposals the Liberals claimed would rein in rates: one was to force Nova Scotia Power shareholders to accept a lower rate of return on their investment. The other was to force NSP to take over Efficiency Nova Scotia, the independent energy conservation agency set up by the NDP.

Both options reflect dumb-as-a-dustball non-thinking, but Younger -- who fancies himself the smartest person in any room he enters -- seems wedded to bulling ahead with implementing both, the review notwithstanding.

While NSP's 9.2 per cent rate of return for shareholders may seem excessive to thee and me, it is -- as a CBC "reality check" during the election campaign noted -- "in line with most other regulated utilities in Canada and the U.S." That means that if the government reduces it significantly, investors will simply invest elsewhere. The only logical option then would be to nationalize NSP; the Liberals won't propose that any time soon.

Younger's other flat-line brainwave is to make NSP shareholders take over Efficiency Nova Scotia, which is currently not only at arms length from both the government and NSP but also funded by a conservation levy on our power bills. Forget the fact NSP would find a way to increase our rates to cover any increased costs, the fact is handing responsibility for conservation over to the company whose raison d'etre is to increase demand is, well, ludicrous.

Given his views, can you imagine any review Younger establishes recommending Nova Scotia really needs an independently funded, arms-length organization dedicated to promoting energy efficiency… say something that resembles Efficiency Nova Scotia, the independently funded, arms-length organization dedicated to promoting energy efficiency Younger wants to disembowel.

We do need a comprehensive, everything-on-the-table review of our electricity system.

The problem is that that's not what Andrew Younger wants.

"The outcome we're looking for," he says, is "to rein in [power] rates."

Starting with the outcome is no way to begin a real review.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

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