11/29/2013 08:50 EST | Updated 01/29/2014 05:59 EST

Nova Scotia energy market would open up, but possible savings two years away

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's energy market would be opened up to producers of renewable power under legislation introduced Friday, but it would be another two years before customers can buy that electricity, Energy Minister Andrew Younger says.

The Electricity Reform Act is the Liberal government's first bill since it was elected last month, following up on a key campaign promise to break Nova Scotia Power's monopoly on the province's power grid.

Younger said the legislation would allow the government to develop new regulations by the spring with the goal of having customers buying power directly from renewable energy retailers in late 2015, after the province's Utility and Review Board reviews those regulations.

"New opportunities will not come at the expense of existing ratepayers and suppliers to Nova Scotia Power," he said. "This reform opens a business opportunity. It does not tilt the playing field."

He said the regulations would cover a variety of power sources, including biomass, wind, solar and tidal energy.

Only customers of Nova Scotia Power would be allowed to participate. Municipal electric utility customers would be excluded.

The Utility and Review Board would be responsible for developing and implementing a licencing regime for energy suppliers.

Younger said while it opens up the energy market, the legislation would not result in immediate savings for consumers. He said that would be more of a long-term goal.

"We've never sold it as that," said Younger. "What we have said is that it is important for people to have choice and important to have opportunities to access renewable electricity."

Daniel Roscoe, CEO of Halifax-based wind energy producer Scotian WindFields, said the legislation would essentially allow his company to sell to any customer aside from Nova Scotia Power.

But he said its effect on the market and ultimately on consumers remains up in the air.

"There is a lot of technical and commercial considerations that will be determined at the UARB and that will determine how much competition there is and how much this market will take over," said Roscoe.

Progressive Conservative energy critic Chris d'Entremont said he's left wondering whether the move will have unintended consequences for consumers who don't buy from sources other than Nova Scotia Power.

"If this means lower power rates for Nova Scotians then great, but I can't see how it does that yet," d'Entremont said.

NDP energy critic Frank Corbett was blunt in his assessment, saying the bill does nothing more than check off a box in the list of campaign commitments made by the Liberals.

"It's a lot about nothing," Corbett said. "There are no guarantees for consumers."

Younger said the proposed act would also lay the groundwork for an upcoming public consultation next year on a long-term energy strategy.