Board blocks Nova Scotia Power on audit secrecy
The provincial regulator has rejected Nova Scotia Power’s initial reasons for wanting to keep secret parts of an audit report that says the utility overspent $22 million on fuel over the past two years.
The provincial Utility and Review Board told the power corporation Tuesday that it has scheduled a hearing Aug. 30 to help determine how much of the findings should remain confidential.
“The board is not prepared, based on the written submissions, to accept NSPI’s request for redactions,” Doreen Friis, the board’s regulatory affairs officer, said in a letter to Nova Scotia Power.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie complained last month that too much information was removed from the report before it was made public July 11.
The Tory leader asked the board to review the classified sections, which were requested by the utility, saying ratepayers deserve to know more about why the audit concluded that Nova Scotia Power could have gotten better prices for fuel in some instances.
The utility disagrees with the findings of the regulator’s consultant, Liberty Consulting Group of Quentin, Pa., and said it has achieved the best prices possible through its fuel-procurement process.
Nova Scotia Power has told the board that additional information shouldn’t be released because most of it is sensitive commercial information. Other sections should stay secret because “specific and serious harm will be caused” if they are made public, the utility said.
“NSPI has already minimized the extent of redaction in the Liberty (fuel adjustment mechanism) audit; indeed, many of Liberty’s criticisms have not been redacted,” Peter Downard, the utility’s Toronto lawyer, said in a July 25 letter to the board.
Nova Scotia Power said the amount of confidential information in the report is consistent with past fuel-related filings.
The utility also asked that a hearing be held if the regulator didn’t agree with its position, although the power corporation wanted a closed-door session.
Two customer representatives say more of the report should be made public.
“The information referred to in Mr. Downard’s July 25th letter does not establish an interest or a potential harm that outweighs the public interest in open accountability,” consumer advocate John Merrick said in a filing last week.
Merrick, a Halifax lawyer, said Nova Scotia Power has indicated it is reluctant to release more of the audit because the findings may be defamatory toward officials with the company or its parent, Emera Inc.
Halifax lawyer Nancy Rubin, representing industrial customers who fall under the Avon Group umbrella, said the defamation claim should be rejected.
“The audit is a critical component of the (fuel adjustment mechanism),” Rubin said in an Aug. 1 letter.
“Disclosure is patently in the public interest as the substance of the FAM audit, including critical portions, require the cleansing light of public scrutiny.”