Tory Leader Jamie Baillie says his party wants to freeze power rates and, by joining forces with our Atlantic Canada neighbours, Nova Scotians can even get cheaper electricity.

But freezing rates doesn’t mean the province has to maintain its reliance on burning coal, the Progressive Conservative leader said.

Nova Scotia can wean itself off fossil fuel-guzzling power plants affordably, he said, but it’ll just take a little longer than Darrell Dexter’s NDP government wants.

Legislation requires that 25 per cent of the province’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2015, and 40 per cent by 2020.

“The 40 per cent (reduction target) we agree with, but we’ll get there at a rate that we can afford,” Baillie said in a telephone interview Sunday evening shortly before his party’s annual leader’s dinner.

Baillie said a Conservative government would instruct Nova Scotia Power to buy all the renewable power it can within the current rate structure. And, that means a little change in bookkeeping.

“Every year the old coal-fired plants depreciate, which creates millions of dollars of room under the current rates to add more renewables,” he said.

The second part of Baillie’s electricity plan would see Nova Scotia join forces with New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to create a regional energy grid.

Baillie said two recent studies support a regional grid — the Atlantic Energy Gateway Report and one conducted by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies. Both show Nova Scotians would immediately enjoy lower power rates, even after the startup infrastructure costs are factored in, he said.

With a regional grid, Nova Scotia could shop around and buy energy from the cheapest source in the region, which the Tory leader says would create competition among the four Maritime utilities.

At the least, Baillie said, an independent study should be conducted to determine which would be the better option — creating a regional grid or Newfoundland’s Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project.

NSP’s parent company Emera is partnering with the Muskrat Falls project, which is estimated to cost more than $7 billion, by funding a subsea transmission link to bring power from Newfoundland to Cape Breton. The link is expected to cost $1.2 billion but that has not been finalized and is pending a regulatory review scheduled over the next several months before Nova Scotia’s Utility and Review Board.

Baillie says he also wants to see Nova Scotia take away Nova Scotia Power’s guaranteed rate of return on investment.

“Instead, we’ll put in place service delivery standards that Nova Scotia power will make its profit the same as any other company by delivering good service to its customers at reasonable prices.”

Talk of energy and electricity have been frequently on the tongues of Nova Scotia politicians of late. Cape Breton University political scientist David Johnson told The Chronicle Herald Saturday that the intense political rhetoric is not surprising with Dexter’s government in its fourth year and a provincial election likely to come within the next 12 months.

Baillie further criticized Darrell Dexter’s NDP government for what he termed corporate handouts and bailouts.

Instead, Baillie said his plan to grow Nova Scotia’s economy would see government investing in Nova Scotia youngsters by guaranteeing them small class sizes.

Read the article in The Chronicle Herald here