[SYDNEY, NS] — Nova Scotia Power’s proposed rate hikes could mean an uncertain future for a North Sydney fish processing plant.
Those were among the concerns heard by Rob Bennett, CEO of the utility, during a breakfast meeting Wednesday in Sydney.
The concern was expressed by Peter McCarron who works for Louisbourg Seafoods Ltd., which operates four fish processing plants in Cape Breton.
“I understand you need to change to protect the environment,” said McCarron to Bennett. “Our concern is in order for us to get over that hump you are talking about we won’t survive.”
Nova Scotia Power has requested a three per cent rate increase in each of 2013 and 2014 mostly because two provincial paper mills, its biggest customers, have been struggling. The hikes will also help to pay for costs associated with meeting green energy guidelines.
“In a businesses where we are competing on a global market, not against other Nova Scotia companies, it is going to put us to the point where we are not going to be able to ship our product,” said McCarron. “The market won’t take that increase. We can’t pass it on.”
Bennett told McCarron that power rates in Nova Scotia are comparable to the other utilities across Canada and less than those in New England and Europe.
He also told the audience the rate hikes to offset environmental changes will eventually result in stable power prices in Nova Scotia.
“We know the concerns commercial customers face and we are doing everything we can to keep doing everything we can to keep ourselves regionally competitive,” Bennett said after the meeting.
Bennett also fielded questions on the viability of natural gas and a potential role for Donkin coal in Nova Scotia Power plants.
He said neither Lingan nor Point Aconi are close enough to the natural gas pipeline to net savings, although the possibilities for Point Tupper are being examined.
As for Donkin coal, he said it could be used in plants with the right modifications.
“What it comes down to is if we can get it out of the ground in a cost-effective way so that we can justify the modifications to our plants.”
Bennett also tackled the sticky issue of executive compensation, which he said are set by Emera’s board of directors to be the average of the comparable position of another company anywhere in Canada.
Wednesday’s breakfast with the business community was organized by the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce and was part of a series of formal and informal discussions with people across the province on proposed rate hikes.
The night before, Bennett spoke to local municipal politicians and residents about the reliability of the power system.
He’s also heard from Tim Hortons patrons during random stops across the province.
“I start talking about what they are talking about in the group and then say ‘what about the power rates?’” he said about the coffee shop talk. “People usually say they have strong opinions and then I introduce myself.”
Usually people are initially surprised, he said, but appreciate the opportunity to discuss the issues.
“It is more about having the chance to hear about what people think because when I hear what they say it helps me understand whether or not our communication is working.”
It’s obvious from those conversations that people are paying attention to the company, he said.
“I very much realize the impact it has, but I do think people are thinking about the message I’m trying to send which is we are trying to make a plan for the future. If we don’t make those hard decisions now and make some of these painful choices today then inevitably we are going to be in a tougher situation in the future.”