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Liberals take aim at Efficiency Nova Scotia funding 

Critics say switching from ratepayer charge to Nova Scotia Power financing will gut efficiency efforts.

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Efficiency Nova Scotia could be in trouble, say critics of a new plan proposed by the incoming government. Ratepayers currently support the non-profit organization, which aims to reduce the amount of energy Nova Scotians use. However, the Liberals want to table legislation that would make Nova Scotia Power shareholders responsible for the organization’s funding.

During the election, the Liberals committed to removing the Efficiency Nova Scotia fee from ratepayers’ bills with the goal of cutting costs for low-income Nova Scotians, says Liberal spokesperson Kyley Harris. But the Ecology Action Centre says the plan could backfire.

Efficiency Nova Scotia Corporation is the country’s leader in energy efficiency because of its independent structure, which allows it to compete with Nova Scotia Power, EAC energy coordinator Catherine Abreu wrote in a report released in August. ENSC expends approximately $46 million a year---a flexible budget overseen by the Utility and Review Board. That translates to a fee of about $5 each month on ratepayers’ bills.

Though the Liberals’ proposed plan is not yet clear, if the independence of the organization and its accountability to ratepayers suffers, so will its programs, Abreu tells The Coast over the phone. Investing money to save electricity costs on average three cents per kilowatt-hour saved compared to on average 11 cents per kilowatt-hour to burn fossil fuels, Abreu says. That’s why it’s helpful to view the organization itself as a source of energy.

As Nova Scotia shifts from coal and fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, increasing energy efficiency can do a good job of “cutting off the fat of our electricity system,” she says. Efficiency NS makes the energy system cleaner during the transition, and allows the province to strategically plan for investments in renewable energy.

Worldwide, electricity costs have been increasing due to the rising costs of coal and fossil fuels, Abreu says. Renewable energy might cost more during the transition, but in the long run these costs will stabilize. In the meantime, efficiency will lower power bills due to lower consumption, Abreu says.

Abreu acknowledges ENSC could do more to improve low-income programming, but says its still a new organization and needs time to work on its goals.

At town halls during the election, ratepayers were in favour of the proposed funding change, newly crowned energy minister Andrew Younger says via email. The plan would also limit overhead costs for Efficiency NS, he says. The independence of ENSC would not be compromised because NSP would not take over management or operation of ENSC, Younger says. The UARB would remain in charge of regulating the organization. The Liberals hope to move on the ENSC plan in the fall session, but since it will be a short session, they may table the legislation in the spring.

The money spent by ENSC has created a new economy in Nova Scotia, Jim Simmons, a senior engineer and associate at Stantec, tells The Coast. “The programming allows us, Nova Scotians, to essentially buy energy from ourselves and not write cheques for offshore energy sources.”

The profits stay in province, the employees doing evaluations and installations are young people---a demographic NS must retain---and the energy savings are also great for the environment, he says. “[ENSC] is doing what it is set up to do and is highly accountable to those paying for it.”

Full disclosure: reporter Hilary Beaumont’s partner's firm has previously represented ENSC in regulatory proceedings."

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