A photo of a house with a solar power panel on the rooftop.
Solar power energy panel. Credit: Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash Credit: Giorgio Trovato / Unsplash

As the federal government continues to set ambitious climate emissions targets, some monopoly electricity providers across the country are looking to impose financial penalties for going green.

That almost happened this week in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Power (NSP) not only proposed a ten per cent rate increase over three years, but also an extra charge for using solar technology.

The plan was part of the company’s first General Rate Application, or change in power costs to customers, in ten years.

Nova Scotia Power president and C.E.O Peter Gregg initially announced that Nova Scotia Power would delay their General Rate Application by one year. But in response to widespread backlash, he announced in a press release Wednesday afternoon that the System Access Charge proposal will be abandoned.

“It is clear to us that the complexity of the Solar Net Metering issue means the right decision is to withdraw our application for the System Access Charge and we will immediately take the necessary steps to do so,” Gregg wrote.

Touted as an opportunity to “generate your own electricity while still being able to draw from our power grid when needed,” the net metering program allows customers to offset some electricity usage by, at least in part, powering their homes with renewable energy.

Now, NSP wants to impose new charges on those customers, arguing “the energy and service provided by NSP to solar customers is being subsidized by all of NSP’s other customers.”

But NSP’s clients on the net metering program already give back to other customers, who benefit from the excess energy powered by renewables.

“If your renewable generating unit produces more energy than you use at any one time, the unused electricity will flow onto the local grid for others to use,” NSP’s website reads.

System Access Charge panned by green experts, premier

The System Access Charge of $8 per kilowatt hour per month “will, and already has, caused unnecessary uncertainty and disruption to Nova Scotians exploring solar systems for their homes, and to the solar industry across the province,” reads a January 31 press release from Efficiency Nova Scotia

Efficiency Nova Scotia says is achieved more than $1.4 billion in energy savings, as well as contributing to a quarter of the province’s greenhouse gas emission reductions in the last ten years. 

The SolarHomes program, which Efficiency Nova Scotia launched in 2018, has provided solar systems to nearly 5,000 homes. According to Efficiency Nova Scotia, “the number of companies registered as solar installers has risen from 13 to nearly 80.”

Gregg initially released a Jan. 29 statement, in response to widespread condemnation from customers, green energy experts, and politicians alike, who warned the proposed pricing changes could thwart the province’s climate efforts entirely. 

In his statement, Gregg justified the proposed System Access Charge by noting that customers in the net metering program “use NSP’s power lines and infrastructure to put their excess energy on the grid or use power from the grid when they don’t produce enough.”

In a subsequent statement, Gregg panned the company’s Net Metering Program, even going so far as to blame solar energy users for not paying their fair share.

 “We recognize that customers who choose solar do invest a significant amount and do pay for the electricity they use,” he wrote. “What they do not pay for are all of the costs associated with them having access to the NS Power grid when they need energy from the grid, like the cold winter evenings when the sun is not shining.”

Gregg went on to accuse net metering users of being subsidized by non-solar customers, thus pitting clients against one another.

In a letter released Wednesday morning, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston notified the province’s Utility and Review Board that the provincial government will be implementing legislative frameworks to deny the net metering System Access Charge.

“[S]ince Nova Scotia Power has shown that it is out of step with Nova Scotians and their environmental ambitions, we are also exploring ways to better align the goals of the program with the goals of our environment,” Houston wrote, noting the province will “support the greening of the grid, not discourage it.”

Solar Nova Scotia believes the move by NSP would “destroy the solar industry” entirely

Solar Nova Scotia is a non-profit organization with a mission to shift 100 per cent of the province’s power to sustainable and renewable energy.

“This fee will have a profound impact on the solar industry in this province,” David Brushett, Chair of Solar Nova Scotia said in a Monday statement. “The fee will cut customer’s electricity savings in half and completely erode consumer confidence in “going solar” and will limit customer choice in terms of how they get their electricity,” Brushett further stated.

The statement noted there are over 50 solar companies in the province, contributing $30 million in private-sector investments to the Nova Scotia economy in 2021, while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the province by roughly a quarter of a million tonnes. 

“In 2019, the Canadian Solar Industries Association released a report projecting over 1100 solar jobs in Nova Scotia by 2030, while over 17,000 homes will have installed solar systems. These projected results are clearly unobtainable if the access charge is approved,” the statement reads.

The solar industries group noted that less than one per cent of Nova Scotia’s energy is currently produced by solar. The organization noted that while currently it would take around 12 years for solar companies to pay off and see a return on their investment, if the System Access Charge were implemented it would more take than twice that time, 25 years, before they broke even.

“The proposed charge of $8.00 per kilowatt per month—submitted with absolutely no consultation with the local solar industry—would result in an average annual fee of $960 to solar customers,” the statement continued.

Now, after widespread backlash from customers, politicians, and climate experts alike, NSP is abandoning plans to apply a tarriff to solar energy users.

NSP began operations in 1998, when the provincial government effectively privatized the province’s public electrical utility. The company is a subsidiary of Emera Inc, a publicly-traded Canadian energy holding company, which operates in Atlantic Canada, Maine, New Mexico, and the Caribbean.

As of 2018, the company employed 7,500 workers, and reported $6.5 billion in revenue. 

Image: Gilad Cohen

Stephen Wentzell

Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred...