04/14/2014 01:51 EDT | Updated 06/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Ecology Action Centre expresses support for Nova Scotia energy efficiency bill

HALIFAX - A Halifax-based environmental group expressed support Monday for the Nova Scotia government's energy efficiency legislation even though it's not what the Liberals promised during the election campaign.

Catherine Abreu, energy co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, said the bill introduced last week is contrary to the Liberal promise of making Nova Scotia Power pay for efficiency programs because it allows those costs to be passed on to customers.

But Abreu said requiring Nova Scotia Power to swallow the costs of efficiency programs — estimated last year at an annual cost of $46 million — wouldn't make sense for a business whose job is to keep the lights on.

She said it's also important ratepayers pay for efficiency programs in order to ensure cost competitiveness and accountability.

"I think what we've seen in this bill is acknowledgment that the situation was perhaps more complicated than that promise suggested," Abreu said following an appearance before the province's law amendments committee.

"In working out the details of a very complex situation, I think our government realized this is a better way to go and I agree."

She said the legislation should result in an overall net savings.

"Folks will be paying for efficiency in the same way that they currently pay for coal, for natural gas, for hydro power and for wind," she said. "That's how this kind of competitive situation is maintained."

Energy Minister Andrew Younger has acknowledged that the bill was "slightly different" from the campaign promise, but he has also said it is better because it is accompanied by an agreement that would see Nova Scotia Power pay about $37 million over the next 10 years to upgrade all low-income electrically heated homes in the province.

Younger didn't veer from that line Monday and used the Ecology Action Centre's support of the bill as proof the government is on the right track.

"What I'm happy with is that they are happy with the plan that we've laid out," Younger said. "I actually think the benefits to Nova Scotians go further than what we promised in the election."

While Abreu told the committee her group supports the bill, she did express concerns over a measure that would see the cost of efficiency programs capped at $35 million next year.

"That budget should shrink or grow according to how cost-effective the efficiency programs are," Abreu said.

She said if there were any indication the cap were to last beyond the so-called transition year, her group would object.