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Nova Scotia to probe power utility’s ‘unacceptable’ storm response

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has deemed Nova Scotia Power’s response to post-tropical storm Arthur ‘unacceptable’ and ‘galling.’

PAUL DARROW/The Globe and Mail

Premier Stephen McNeil announced Friday an investigation into Nova Scotia Power's response to post-tropical storm Arthur, calling the power company's conduct "unacceptable" and "galling."

"We need to better understand what went wrong," the Premier said in a press conference in Middleton, a town in his Annapolis Valley riding. "The response by Nova Scotia Power was unacceptable."

The Annapolis Valley, which was among the hardest hit communities in last Saturday's storm. His family was without power for five days – there are still 2,200 Nova Scotians without power, including 1,442 in the Valley.

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At the peak of the storm there were 200,000 without power.

The investigation will be conducted by the province's Utility and Review Board and look at NS Power's communications during and after the storm as many residents were told power would be restored one day only to have that change again and again. The investigation also included storm preparedness, staffing levels and management of the vegetation around power lines.

Mr. McNeil noted the frustration of residents who saw utility poles down or trees fallen over power lines – and no activity but were still told that their power was about to be restored.

"Either the utility was unaware of what was happening in this region or they [NS Power] were just simply not being forthright with the citizens … that is inexcusable in my view," the Premier said.

The public will participate in the review. If there is no "workable solution," the Premier said, his government will bring in legislation in the fall. This could include penalties and support.

He noted that many residents, some of whom are on fixed incomes, had food spoiled in the aftermath of the storm and had made plans on information from the power company that was not correct.

The Premier suggested that legislation may call for funds or support to be available to citizens if this happened again.

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Mr. McNeil has been critical all week of NS Power's response to the storm. In opposition, he was one of the utility's strongest critics, criticizing the fact that it is a monopoly.

"There will be standards that we will expect this utility to perform to, that Nova Scotians expect to perform to," said Mr. McNeil. "We have heard loud and clear that the level of access that Nova Scotians received in this storm was completely unacceptable."

In New Brunswick, some residents in the Fredericton area are hearing that their power will not be restored now until next Tuesday.

Fredericton, the provincial capital, was hit the hardest by the storm. About 22,000 residents are still without power, 60 per cent of whom are in Fredericton.

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