Customers to pay close to $35M for Nova Scotia Power's Fiona bill

Lineworkers brought in from New Brunswick repair power lines on Jubilee Road in Halifax in the wake of Fiona. Nova Scotia Power spent nearly $25 million on restoration work in the week following Fiona's landfall in September 2022. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News - image credit)
Lineworkers brought in from New Brunswick repair power lines on Jubilee Road in Halifax in the wake of Fiona. Nova Scotia Power spent nearly $25 million on restoration work in the week following Fiona's landfall in September 2022. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News - image credit)

The most expensive storm recovery in Nova Scotia Power's history will be paid for by its customers.

That plan was approved by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) in a pair of decisions released Thursday.

Post-tropical storm Fiona was one of the most powerful and destructive storms to ever hit Atlantic Canada, and it knocked out power to about 415,000 customers of Nova Scotia Power (NSP).

Within a week of the storm's landfall in Nova Scotia on Sept. 23, 2022, the power utility had spent $24.6 million on restoration efforts.

The largest expense was $19 million for contracts, followed by $2.9 million for overtime and $2 million for meals and travel.

Clock starts next month

The utility applied to the UARB in 2023 to defer those costs, and the board granted the request, with one major condition.

NSP asked that amortization and collection be deferred until the next rate-setting process. But the board assigned July 1, 2024, as the start date for a 10-year amortization schedule — that is, NSP has to start paying down the costs at the start of next month.

Some of the damage from post-tropical storm Fiona on Rigby Road in Sydney, N.S., is shown.
Some of the damage from post-tropical storm Fiona on Rigby Road in Sydney, N.S., is shown.

Damage from post-tropical storm Fiona on Rigby Road in Sydney, N.S. (Nova Scotia Power)

However, it cannot yet change power rates to offset the payments. The utility will have to wait until the next time it applies to the UARB to set rates. As such, it's not yet clear how this approval will affect power rates.

Nova Scotia Power would not comment, saying in an email, "Our team is still reviewing the details of today's decision."

In a separate decision, the board approved close to $120 million in cost overruns from 2022, mostly related to Fiona. Of that total, $10 million is related to equipment that had to be retired after suffering damage during the historic storm.

That $10 million has also been deferred for recovery from NSP customers, and it has to be paid down on the same schedule as the restoration costs, the board said.

Minister says he'll try to protect ratepayers

Tory Rushton, Nova Scotia's minister of natural resources and renewables, told reporters Thursday that his department is "here to protect the ratepayers of Nova Scotia."

His department was an intervener in the UARB applications and opposed the $24.6-million deferral. The department didn't outright oppose the cost overruns and $10-million deferral, but said the board needed to "judiciously weigh" concerns that NSP didn't efficiently mitigate storm-recovery costs.

"I know I'll be having conversations with Nova Scotia Power at my next opportunity, and question, 'What is your plan in place to move forward?'" Rushton said following a cabinet meeting.

"Because I don't think it's a question of if the next storm, it's a question of when the next storm."

Nova Scotia Power crew in Sydney working to repair damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona on Oct. 1.
Nova Scotia Power crew in Sydney working to repair damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona on Oct. 1.

Nova Scotia Power crews in Sydney work to repair damage caused by post-tropical storm Fiona on Oct. 1, 2022. Recovery from the storm was the costliest in Nova Scotia Power's history. (Robert Short/CBC)

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the government ought to have a plan of its own, and he doesn't think it does.

The result, he told reporters, is "more costs on people at a time they can't afford it."

NDP Leader Claudia Chender said there should be legislation to ensure reliability of the power grid, and rate stability.

"We are facing further extreme weather events," she told reporters.

"This will not be the first cleanup that we need, and we need to ensure, ideally in a legal or regulatory way, that Nova Scotia Power is required to do the work it needs to do to prevent these costs from being incurred in the first place."

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