22 Aug Liveblog: NSP meets its customers – Day 2
NSP President Rob Bennett has wrapped up the session with a brief thank you to the consumer participants and expert panelists. The session ended about an hour early to give participants time to get home before Hurricane Bill hits. Before leaving Truro, the consumer participants will fill out a questionnaire touching on various energy issues. They filled out an a second survey before coming to the session. Comparing the two will give NSP policy planners some insight into whether and how an informed discussion can move public opinion on energy issues.
One of the consumer breakout groups expressed alarm about the growing enthusiasm for biomass, and the increased pressure for clear-cutting it would create. The consensus among the panelists is that biomass should be used, but selectively, and without being blind to the potential problems. Recovering energy from farming and fishing byproducts that are normally discarded as waste was cited as a beneficial use of biomass power.
Consumer question: Why is there a law in Nova Scotia banning nuclear power and is Nova Scotia Power doing anything to change this?
Allan Crandlemire, Executive Director, Conserve Nova Scotia: “The ban has been in place for more than 20 years, and probably relates to Nova Scotia’s historic commitment to coal mining and coal-fired generation.”
Janet Janet Ashworth, alternative energy co-ordinator for the Ecology Actiuon Centre: “I would be very concerned about the health implications of nuclear power, starting with the health and environmental issues around uranium mining.”
Crandlemire: “The question of whether we have the option to consider it is very different from the question of whether we should choose nuclear. I am not advoicating that we go nuclear. I was trying to outline the histoical reasons why we have a ban on even considering it.”
if it is true that we have to move out to renewable sources
Consumer question: What is the potential for tidal power production?
Richardson said the pilot tidal projects now underway are an attempt to resolve two questions: which of two types of tidal turbines is bests uited for our needs, and what happend when you turn a single tidal generator into a tiday energy farm with many connected turbines. “If you asked me today, I think the potential would be in the 100-200 megawatt range, about 10 percent of our power production.”
Having completed the breakout discussion groups, the energy forum has now reconvened with an expert panel taking questions from the customer participants. The first question dealt with the capital cost required to meet the government’s 2015 renewable energy targets, and would this cost be passed on to customers. Alan Richardson, NSP vice president of commercial services, responded:
The cost will be substantial, certainly In the hundreds of millions. There is some uncertainty about the amount because there are choices to be made about which path we will take to move us away from fossil fuels and become much cleaner. This will affect customer power bills. Customer power bills are a function of our costs, because we are a regulated utility. We present to the UARB what we think our costs will be, and the UARB either agrees or disagrees, and sets our rates.
We think we can keep the capital costs within the range of inflation, but about half of our costs are fuel. There is some variability because of unknowns in the cost of fuels.
One group takes a dim view of burning agricultural and forest wastes to produce biomass power: “I’m afraid when the run out of garbage, they’re going to move on to the good stuff. If they build those machines, they will want to use them.”
The consumer view in a nutshell:
Wind is great. Solar is great. Tidal is great. We need these things. But how are we going to pay for them? [Nova Scotia Power] are not reinvesting profits in these things, they’re paying themselves.
NSP President Rob Bennett on the company’s biggest challenge: “How do we move to new sources of fuel without driving energy prices to high we wreck the economy. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’m convinced we can do it. The government has set a goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2015. I think it’s a very reasonable goal. In fact, I’d like to see us shoot for 30 percent so we have some safety margin.”
(Bennett was speaking conversationally during a break. Although he and other NSP officials are observing the consumer sessions, together with a variety of industry experts, they are not participating. Only customers and CRA facilitators take part. Some company officials and technical experts will be questioned by the forum participants in a panel discussion this afternoon.)
In the three sessions I’ve visited so far, the participants’ keen interest in conservation is surpassed only by their irritation at rising electricity costs. Politicians deal with this contradiction by pandering to both positions, but NSP doesn’t have that luxury. To curb its use of dirty coal, the company will have to bring on more expensive power sources.
This contradiction, it seems to me, is one of the biggest obstacles to sound environmental policy. Nova Scotians are concerned about the environment, and want steps taken to prevent climate change, but not so concerned that they are ready to endure increased costs or personal inconvenience.
A surprising number of participants in one session said they try to use their dishwashers and washing machines only at night, when power is cheaper. In fact, except for a small group of NSP customers who have electrical heat storage units and smart meters, electricity is not cheaper at night, although it costs far less for NSP to produce. Shifting peak power consumption to off-peak hours is one of NSP’s biggest conservation opportunities. The discussion suggests that time-of-day rates could drive that transition.
In each of the five morning breakout sessions, 20 customers are discussing energy conservation and value. Facilitators from Corporate Research Associates, a Halifax communications firm, began the session by asking what participants had done to conserve electricity.
Almost all participants claimed to have done something: from changing to compact fluorescent bulbs (“except in the bathroom, where my wife wouldn’t let me change them”), installing programmable thermostats, to buying a solar water heater for a swimming pool.
“I got rid of my teenager,” said a woman from Tatamagouche. “The change in electrical since he’s moved out is amazing!”
Saturday 10:00 a.m.
The customers taking part in Nova Scotia Power’s consumer forum in Truro were drawn from a 5,000-person online panel the company has assembled for periodic survey purposes. A demographically balanced subset of 1,000 members this group was asked about their interest in participating, and about 300 responded. The 99 people taking part in today’s session came from that group.
The idea was to capture a mix of ages, incomes, and region of the province that reflects NSP’s customer base. My impression, after eavesdropping on the first few minutes of the morening breakout sessions, is that the group is unrepresentative in at least one respect: The participants seem unusually interested in energy policy, and keen to learn more.
Live blog of Friday evening’s session here.