06/15/2015 04:09 EDT | Updated 06/15/2016 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia's energy efficiency agency to cut funding ask by $8 million

HALIFAX - Hearings to determine how much should be spent on efficiency programs in Nova Scotia were told Monday of a tentative deal that would see the three-year funding request by Efficiency One cut by $8 million.

The non-profit agency responsible for providing energy efficiency programs told the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board that it had reached a deal in noon-hour talks with the province's consumer and small business advocates and the Affordable Energy Coalition.

The verbal agreement that was expected to be formalized by Tuesday would reduce the overall funding request from $121.5 million over three years to $113.5 million — meaning the ask would be about $38 million a year.

However, that still left a significant gap with Nova Scotia Power which is requesting that it pay $22 million a year to fund efficiency programs.

Efficiency One said the cost to consumers, which is embedded in power rates, would result in some minimal short-term increases to power bills that would be offset by long-term savings as the overall system reduces energy costs.

Allan Crandlemire, the agency's CEO, said Monday's agreement was the result of talks that had been ongoing since Efficiency One submitted its funding plan in late February. He called the development significant.

"Both the consumer advocate and small business advocate would represent very large numbers of customers and certainly they see the value in energy efficiency," said Crandlemire.

He said Efficiency One has been willing over time to adjust the level of its funding request, having started out in the $50 million range in the earliest stages of its plan.

Consumer advocate John Merrick said the agreement would result in a reasonable budget request that ensures consumers are getting the "best bang for their buck" when it comes to the bottom line on their power bills.

He said consumers who don't participate in efficiency programs would probably see a jump of about one per cent or slightly more in their bills if Efficiency One's revamped request is accepted by the regulator.

But Nova Scotia Power maintains new deal or not, the agency's request is higher than consumers should be expected to pay.

Spokeswoman Sasha Irving said it's clear consumers want short-term savings as well as long-term.

"Energy efficiency programs are definitely necessary but there has to be a balance in cost and we think it needs to be closer to the $22 million," Irving said.

The hearings are scheduled to run through the rest of this week in Halifax.