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New legislation introduced on February 27 to modernize Nova Scotia’s electricity system and enhance public utility regulation in the energy sector reflects a key recommendation of the task force created to advise the government on needed changes.

The Energy Reform (2024) Act creates two new acts and repeals the Utility and Review Board Act. The legislation reflects the first and most significant recommendation in the Clean Electricity Solutions Task Force report.

The Clean Electricity Solutions Task Force was appointed by Premier Tim Houston and Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton in April 2023. It was led by former Nova Scotia deputy minister and federal energy regulator Alison Scott and former senior energy executive John MacIsaac. The task force was mandated to examine issues around electricity infrastructure, the regulatory environment, reliability, and affordability.

Nova Scotia has committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We want Nova Scotia ratepayers to have clean, reliable, and affordable electricity. Bold changes are needed to our electricity system to do that,” said Tory Rushton, Minister of Natural Resources and Renewables, in a news release announcing the changes. “With this legislation, we’re changing how the electricity system is structured and regulated. This will make it more accountable, transparent, and competitive to make sure ratepayers get the lowest cost options and put the province in a better position as we move to clean energy.”The new Energy and Regulatory Boards Act will split the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board into two new boards. It will create the new Nova Scotia Energy Board with expertise in and a focus on regulating public utilities in the energy sector. The new Energy Board will be required to consider the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act in its decisions. 

“The Utility and Review Board operates well, but the Task Force concluded that its mandate is far too broad to be effective in the long term as energy transition demands are significantly increasing as Nova Scotia moves to a net zero future,” said task force member Alison Scott. “Most Canadian jurisdictions, including smaller provinces like New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have their own form of an energy regulator. It’s time for Nova Scotia to have its own energy board.”

The new More Access to Energy Act will create an Independent Energy System Operator to manage the operations of the electricity system, making sure electricity is delivered where and when it is needed. It will also manage the connection of renewable energy projects to the grid. Until now these functions were managed by Nova Scotia Power.

The new independent, non-profit organization, managed by a CEO reporting to a board of directors, will also take on responsibilities for system planning and procuring new energy sources. This change will enhance transparency and accountability to Nova Scotians and the energy sector.

“Independent system operators are commonplace in jurisdictions across Canada and the United States.” said John MacIsaac, task force member. “Moving the system operator from Nova Scotia Power to an independent, not-for-profit organization will spur increased competition for the resources necessary to replace coal. Open competition is an essential element necessary for the planned renewable transformation to ensure cost effectiveness and value for customers at each step of the energy transformation.”

The remaining responsibilities of the Utility and Review Board will stay with a restructured and renamed Regulatory and Appeals Board.The Nova Scotia Energy Board is expected to be established this year, with the new Independent Energy System Operator fully operational by late 2025.

Rushton says the current chair and members of the Utility and Review Board will continue to serve the two new boards. No job losses are expected because of the legislation; affected Nova Scotia Power and Utility and Review Board employees will be offered positions with the new entities.

Nuclear Power an Option

The government also introduced changes to the Public Utilities Act that will allow Nova Scotia Power to own a nuclear power generating station, which would enable the utility to use small nuclear reactors in the future.

The task force met with more than 20 stakeholders between August and September 2023 and received more than 25 written submissions from individuals and organizations. According to Rushton, that included lengthy and productive discussions with Nova Scotia Power and the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

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