Nova Scotia Power Withdraws Proposal for Controversial Solar Fee with Mixed Reactions

In a dramatic reversal, private energy utility Nova Scotia Power (NSP) has withdrawn its proposal to charge solar customers a system access charge of $8 per kilowatt for net metering services. The fee would have required approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to go into effect and was a part of a broader proposal presented in late January. Dubbed a death blow to the solar industry by politicians, solar installation companies, homeowners, and environmental non-profits, NSP was quickly put on the defensive.

Alongside the net metering disincentive, NSP also requested a blanket 10% rate increase for all power customers – with small and larger businesses shouldering a more significant amount – and announced it would delay the closure of its Trenton 5 coal plant until 2024.

According to David Brushett, chairman of Solar Nova Scotia – a non-profit dedicated to developing a fully renewable grid in the province – the monthly access charge would have made solar unfeasible for the vast majority of homeowners by nearly doubling the payback period on installations.

Opposition to the move was so swift and fierce that within a matter of days, a GoFundMe campaign had amassed more than $37,000 to fight the proposal, according to Solar Nova Scotia.

Premier Tim Houston also tweeted a public letter on the matter: “We’re working now to introduce the necessary legislative and regulatory framework to deny the net metering system access charge requested by NS Power.” Shortly after, NSP president and CEO Peter Gregg confirmed the withdrawal of the net metering fee application.

While NSP undoubtedly caused unnecessary uncertainty due to its flawed net metering proposal, some business owners – such as Yohan Peiris, owner of Renewly Solar – feel that the successful mobilization against the policy demonstrates a “change [for] the industry for good.” Looking to the future, Peiris hopes that emergent threats to the solar industry and climate progress can be handled using the same formula – a cooperative mindset and strong allyship among the cleantech business, non-profit, and activist communities.

Others, however, haven’t let NSP off the hook so quickly. In response to the utility’s statement on the withdrawal of its application for the system access charge, national program director for Sierra Club Canada, Gretchen Fitzgerald, said, “This doesn’t change the fact that Nova Scotia Power is reaping millions of dollars off the backs of hardworking Nova Scotians who are doing their damnedest to respond to the climate crisis.”

“NSP has been making it hard all along for people to participate in the transition to clean renewable energy. That’s what private profit-driven monopolies do,” she said.

Tynette Deveaux of Sierra Club Canada pointed out that “The CEO of Emera Scott Balfour – a parent company of NSP – got a $1-million raise in 2020, bringing his yearly compensation to nearly $8 million. And [yet NSP] wants to charge people who are struggling to survive the financial turmoil of two years of COVID an extra 10 percent for their electricity. There is something seriously wrong with this picture.”

She also added that “delaying the shutdown of coal, which made up over 60 percent of Nova Scotia’s energy grid as of 2018, [wasn’t] acceptable. “It’s almost like [NSP is] holding us for ransom.”

While NSP justified its net metering charge on the basis that it would make its electrical grid fairer for non-solar users – which tend to be lower-income – accusations of monopoly fixing behaviour from utility regulators aren’t new. Parallels can be drawn to California. Recently, the Public Utilities Commission fought back against allegations that it was attempting to sabotage the state’s residential solar market by making the technology unprofitable through a similar mechanism to that proposed NSP.

While opinions are divided on the long-term impacts of NSP’s access charge proposal, many Nova Scotians have expressed a desire to move more quickly on the province’s climate goals. “I hope there’s no more drama [here] with archaic thinking and that we move forward as a leader in green technology,” said Jodie Penwarden, a residential solar owner.