NSP meets its customers – feedback

Getting this done (or almost done), together with pressing client chores, have kept contrarian from blogging much these last two weeks, leaving a backlog of unacknowledged feedback on the NS Power customer consultation, and the recent outbreak of hurricane hysteria. After the jump, reader feedback on NS Power.

Consultation participant Flora Johnson says my observation that “the participants’ keen interest in conservation is surpassed only by their irritation at rising electricity costs” did not reflect the discussion in her breakout session.

I did not notice any pronounced annoyance with rising electricity costs in our group. On the contrary, one of our participants noted that our energy costs are low compared to those in other countries and  they will probably have to increase in order to pay for cleaner energy. I don’t recall that anyone in the group disagreed, and I believe only one member of the group stated that she thinks the cost of electricity is now too high.

I do recall a discussion of whether those who try to conserve energy at home should have to pay the full cost of these measures, particularly those that require a significant investment of capital. But this is a different issue. The question is not whether we shouldn’t pay more for electricity; the question is whether we should pay more while other users, who are not conserving energy, continue to pay less. This question is about whether the cost of energy is being allocated equitably, not whether consumers as a whole are being asked to pay too much.

Personally I was impressed with the willingness of the people in my group to make sacrifices in order to contribute to the greater good. Not only that, but they seemed remarkably willing to be realistic about the cost of shifting to renewable energy. It appears to me that in making an overly broad generalization, you may have painted us as being considerably more hypocritical than we really are.

Waye Mason of Halifax responds to NSP VP Alan Richardson’s prediction that moving from fossil fuels to cleaner energy will cost “hundreds of millions,” and “this will affect customer power bills, 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.”

This doesn’t capture the whole picture, Mason says. He wants NSP to price three options:

  • Option A: the 25-50 year cost of maintaining the dirty status quo, including the operating (i.e., fuel)  cost of doing so.
  • Option B: the cost of hitting the 2015 target with generating infrastructure that is more environmental and renewable, and how much any increase capital costs is offset by reduced fuel consumption.
  • The gold-plated Option C: a $12 billion dollar cable to Newfoundland, and an upgraded network so every town with an abandoned paper mill could set up a 20 meg generator, where we go totally renewable and focus on exporting clean energy.

Mason wants NSP to factor potential carbon offsets into the capital and operating costs of each option—a reasonable request. Contrarian would also like NSP to disclose the amortization schedule of its coal-fired plants, most of which are 20-30 years old. If consumers have already paid off the capital cost of these plants, perhaps it’s time to replace them with cleaner generation sources. [The question is posed out of ignorance; contrarian would welcome a response from Richardson.]

An economist friend who revels in out-contrarianing contrarian, and who many have an axe to grind on this subject, thinks the cost issue misses the point, especially as reflected in this Chronicle-Herald editorial.

Point one: It doesn’t matter a hill of beans how much it costs Nova Scotia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. What matters is how much it costs NS to reduce its GHG emissions relative to our trading partners. We are so worried about the costs that we are losing sight of the opportunities. Profit is made when someone (a person or a jurisdiction) does something better or less expensively than others.

Point two: In the unlikely (read impossible) event that Nova Scotia was to go it alone and reduce GHG emissions, but every other place in the world decided not to, the cost to our GDP would be between 1% and 3%. Meaning that, in 2050, instead of having a total GDP growth of 100% from today, that growth would be 97%. Woe is me! The current recession will quite possibly do far greater damage nationally and possibly globally.

Point three: Nova Scotia has competitive electricity prices relative to other Canadian jurisdictions. Compared to the rest of North America, we’re a great bargain. So if we’re starting from a good place relative to the competition, and everyone is going in the same direction, wouldn’t it make more sense to quit whining about irrelevant costs and start focusing on the opportunities?

Citizen Ivan Smith disputes Conserve Nova Scotia Executive Director Allan Crandlemire’s recollection that Nova Scotia banned nuclear power production out of an “historic commitment to coal mining and coal-fired generation.”

As I recall, this was a promise made in the middle of the 1978 provincial election campaign by John Buchanan. At the time, the nuclear generating plant at Point Lepreau, New Brunswick, was under construction, and there was an uproar about the safety of nuclear power stations. This became so intense—Nova Scotia is downwind from Lepreau—that the Conservative Party (as I recall) adopted a platform promise to ban the construction of a nuclear power station anywhere in Nova Scotia.

Buchanan won the election, and shortly thereafter, the Legislature passed a law banning the construction, or even any consideration of the construction, of a nuclear power station anywhere in Nova Scotia. The law included a ban on mining of uranium in Nova Scotia, and even included a ban on exploration anywhere in Nova Scotia for uranium deposits.

Years later, in the late 1980s, when the electric transmission line capacity between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick was increased to allow substantial electric power exchanges between NS and NB, Nova Scotia would buy electric energy from New Brunswick whenever the generation cost in NB was lower than the cost in NS (as is done to this day—as this is being written, at 3:00 am (!), August 25, Nova Scotia is importing 31 megawatts from New Brunswick).

Before August 1992, when the Nova Scotia provincial electric utility was owned by the government, there was a strict policy that Nova Scotia would purchase no nuclear-generated power. We would buy power generated by the coal-fired plant at Minto, but not from the nuclear plant at Lepreau, even if the Lepreau power was much cheaper.

Of course, there is no way for the consumer of electricity to distinguish coal-fired energy from nuclear energy—or hydro, or wind, or whatever. An electron is an electron; it does not carry a label stating where it came from.

This strange restriction was in effect when the provincial electric utility was owned by the Nova Scotia government. The ban on buying nuclear-generated electric energy may have been relaxed after August 1992, when the government sold the NS provincial electric utility to a private company.

Charlene Boyce Young, who labours in the vineyards of the Ecology Action Centre, is glad “nuclear didn’t get excessive discussion. Nuclear isn’t even a good short term solution, when you factor in the inputs to build the plant, and the length of time it takes.”

Contrarian reader BM, who doesn’t look a day over 64, recalls that, “Growing up in the 30s, we only had a bath once a week, and maybe washed our hair once a month.  In between we had ‘bird baths,’ and even brushed our hair a lot. I’ll bet you never heard of putting powder in your hair to cut the grease and then brushing it!

CBC-Radio host Steve Sutherland noted my comment that Roberta Bondar’s surprisingly good opening night speech was obviously written for the occasion, not canned.  “During the Silver Dart Centennial Celebrations in February,” he wrote, “Dr Bondar told me every speech she delivers is written to order, by her own hand.”

BTW, when I describe Bondar’s speech as “surprisingly good,” I mean no slight to her. Contrarian hears so many awful speeches, we’re always delighted and astonished when someone delivers a good one.

Thanks to all who responded. My apologies for not getting these posts up quicker.