04/11/2014 10:53 EDT | Updated 06/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia Power energy savings program 'smoke and mirrors,' Tories say

HALIFAX - An agreement from Nova Scotia Power to pay for energy saving upgrades for people with low incomes is a game of "smoke and mirrors" that fails to mask the provincial government's broken promise on energy efficiency costs, the Opposition said Friday.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie responded after Nova Scotia Power announced details of a program where it will pay up to $3.4 million annually over 10 years to cover the costs of upgrades for as many as 6,000 homes.

Baillie said although he's glad to see help for lower-income households, it doesn't correspond with the Liberal campaign promise to relieve Nova Scotia Power customers of the costs of energy efficiency programs — estimated at $46 million annually.

"Nova Scotians know that they were promised one thing during the election and what's happening today is far short of that," he said.

Energy Minister Andrew Younger was asked by reporters whether he asked Nova Scotia Power to make the contribution for lower-income households.

"All I'm going to say about it is that Nova Scotia Power shareholders are making a contribution," Younger said. "It is not ever recoverable against ratepayers and I think that's a good thing."

The Liberals have come under fire this week after they introduced legislation Monday that would allow Nova Scotia Power to pass on the costs to customers of running efficiency programs.

Under the changes, Nova Scotia Power would be allowed to spend up to $35 million next year to pay for efficiency programs and recover those costs from customers over eight years beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

Nova Scotia Power CEO Bob Hanf also declined to say whether the company agreed to pay for energy upgrades for people with low incomes because the Liberal back-tracked on their promise to require it to pay for energy efficiency programs.

Instead, Hanf touted the benefits of giving energy upgrades to people who can't afford them.

"This step compliments the work we've been doing with low-income advocates," said Hanf.

Nova Scotia Power's announcement Friday differed from the government's statement Monday that the power company will provide up to $37 million over 10 years for low-income homes. But Younger said there was no discrepancy once inflation is taken into account.

The upgrades will be carried out by the Clean Nova Scotia Foundation, a non-profit charity. They will include measures such as improving or providing insulation, fixing wiring and insulating hot water heaters to help customers save more than $550 a year on their power bills, Hanf said.