Saturday, October 16, 2010

This Blog May Be Redacted

You have to wonder whether Nova Scotia Power (NSP) takes training from the CIA. Or maybe it’s from the Harper government which has become known for having political staff vet and sometimes even delay Freedom of Information requests from the media.

Redacted document from NSP hearing
related to filings by Liberty Consulting
Audit of Nova Scotia Power

On Monday I’ll be an official intervener at a power rate hearing before Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board. Of roughly 2000 pages of publicly accessible documents a sizable portion is blacked out or “redacted” in technical speak. As well, in a bunker somewhere there is a space known as the FAM Data Room which holds mysterious confidential binders which can be viewed only in person at the Nova Scotia Power offices.   

Well, viewed but not by just anyone. You need to be a stakeholder and must agree to sign a confidentiality agreement.

To be fair I could have signed that confidentiality agreement. That would have allowed me access to every word and number concerning NSP’s coal, tendering, and mercury reduction strategies. But I couldn’t have told you about it. 

I didn’t sign the confidentiality agreement because it would have meant I couldn’t speak as freely about the proposed rate hikes and, more importantly, I firmly believe NSP has gone too far when it comes to secrecy. The Utility and Review Board has said the same thing about NSP, more than once scolding the company for its secrecy, most recently in September about proposed biomass project.

This document aims to show outages
at NSP generating stations.
Apparently that is top secret.
Some of the redactions border on ridiculous. In response to questions from NSP to Liberty Consulting (the company which did an audit on NSP’s fuel procurement practices) the entire page is redacted with the exception of one line suggesting Liberty doesn’t agree with NSP’s line of questioning. Likewise a table which should show any generating plant downtime of more than two days is completely removed with no explanation as to how this could possibly impact NSP’s ability to negotiate fuel purchases. Why shouldn’t the public know when the power plants were offline

NSP does legitimately require some things to be kept confidential. No doubt there are agreements in place and a small number of sensitive items that could impact future negotiations on fuel pricing and other issues which would negatively impact ratepayers if made public. But with an effective monopoly on electrical power in Nova Scotia, there’s no doubt much more can be made public than what appears in the redacted rate filings. Without access to costs and audit results how are the public to make an informed decision for themselves on the merits of higher power rates?

The public deserves access to as much information from Nova Scotia’s power monopoly.

For now, that’s all. I think I hear the censors coming to redact this blog…