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The high political stakes of power rate promises for the Nova Scotia Liberals

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Photo: Paul B. (Halifax)/flickr

Could Stephen McNeil's read-my-lips election promise to "save you $46 million per year" on your power bills become his defining, Darrell-Dexter-like, no-new-taxes/no-program-cuts, dead-on-the-doorstep electoral moment?

During last year's election campaign, the Liberals' cross-their-heart pledge was straightforwardly specific: if you elect us, we will eliminate the efficiency tax on your electricity bill and force Nova Scotia Power's fat-cat shareholders to pay for energy efficiency out of their inordinate profits. Period. Full stop.

The irony is they probably didn't need to make that promise.

Just as Darrell Dexter's victory in 2009 depended more on our disgust with the Tory devils we knew than on the NDP's unkeepable promise to solve Nova Scotia's fiscal woes without either cuts to programs or new taxes, Stephen McNeil's Liberals won this time because they weren't the now-discredited NDP, not because they promised to save us four dollars a month on our power bills.

The double irony is that, while McNeil's power rate promise may not have gotten him elected, his failure to keep it could lead to his defeat.

Which may help explain why the Liberals were at such pretzel-twisting pain last week to claim their convoluted new legislation to transform the highly successful, independent Efficiency Nova Scotia into the hopefully successful, independent utility named... well something else, but operating under the brand name Efficiency Nova Scotia is "actually going to end up being a more positive experience for power bills, quite frankly, and a bigger savings for ratepayers."

As Energy Minister Andrew Younger delicately put it, "we have come up with a slightly different way of addressing this."

There's this one-year deferral of the $35 million NSP will spend on efficiency program next years, followed by eight years recovering those costs plus interest... Oh, yes, and then there's the $37 million NSP will "contribute" to upgrade electrically heated homes for low-income earners -- or is that the same? -- for which NSP will get (s-s-h-h-h!!) tax relief. And then there's...

Does your head hurt yet?

Perhaps that's the idea.

The real question, ultimately, will be whether Nova Scotians, in the electoral fullness of time, believe their power bills are lower -- or higher -- because of all this Liberal jiggery-pokery.

We will see. 

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

Photo: Paul B. (Halifax)/flickr

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