The roots of electricity development in Nova Scotia stretch back to coal gas and light companies, and mass transit operators - horse-drawn rail and, later, electric trams - of the mid- to late-1800s. Electric companies began appearing in the 1880s, first in Halifax with the 1881 incorporation of the Halifax Electric Light Co., then in municipalities throughout the province.
The provincial government formed the Nova Scotia Power Commission in 1919, following the lead of several other Canadian provinces in establishing Crown electrical utilities. During this time, hydroelectric plants were built by the Power Commission, the large, privately-owned Nova Scotia Light and Power Company of Halifax, and the smaller utilities based in various towns and villages. The Rural Electrification Act of 1937 helped extend distribution lines from urban areas and existing power plants, and brought affordable electricity to rural communities.
In the years following World War Two, the Light and Power Company upgraded Halifax’s electric public transit system and rolled out electric trolley coaches
to replace the trams which had serviced the downtown for decades. The coaches were able to transport more people, farther, and seen as better able to meet the growing demand on the city’s transit system.
The Power Commission grew through the 1920s to 1960s as private and municipally owned hydro plants and electrical utilities went bankrupt or sold their assets. New plants like the one built at Tufts Cove in the 1960s ran on imported oil for fuel.
In 1972, the Power Commission and Light and Power Company were amalgamated to create the government-owned Nova Scotia Power Corporation. In the wake of the OPEC oil crisis, the government decided to switch from imported oil to Cape Breton coal as Nova Scotia’s primary source of electricity generation. New coal power plants were built, mostly in Cape Breton to be close to the mines. 1984 saw the opening of the Annapolis Tidal Power plant, the first and still only tidal power generating station of its kind in North America.
With this transition, the debt of the Crown Corporation grew as is sought to limit the impact of the rising costs of generating and supplying electricity on its customers. By the early 1990s, the utility’s debt reached a level that the provincial government was no longer willing to bear. In 1992, the Crown Corporation was privatized, creating Nova Scotia Power Inc. Throughout the 1990s, operations were streamlined and customers benefitted from relatively stable electricity costs and few major storms.
The 1990s also saw the creation of Emera, which grew from the holding company formed following the privatization of NS Power to become an international energy firm headquartered in Halifax.
Recent years have seen changes in the way we operate. In 2003, Hurricane Juan caused extensive damage to the province’s transmission distribution system, and led to significant improvements in how we plan for and respond to storms. Stronger storms, more often, have since heightened our focus on strengthening the electricity system. In 2010, we began a five year, $100 million plan to improve the reliability of the electrical system province-wide.
In 2007, the provincial Renewable Energy Standard took effect, and have since helped to guide our transition away from coal to more renewable energy. They’ve also helped diversify control over electricity generation in Nova Scotia. In 2010, our first two wind farms began producing power at Digby Neck and Nuttby Mountain amidst several independently owned sites already producing power. Other independently owned wind farms have opened since, with more expected in the future. Our first biomass power plant opened in 2013 Government legislation surrounding greenhouse gas and air emissions have helping us to reduce our impact on the environment in recent years, and we’re well on our way to meeting future emissions caps.
Change has been a constant in the story of electricity in Nova Scotia, and Nova Scotia Power will continue to evolve and adapt to ensure a better energy future for our province.