Nova Scotia Power says outsourcing saves money, but won't say how much

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia Power said Thursday it has decided that outsourcing unionized transmission line inspection jobs would save the utility money, but it isn’t saying how much.

The company said outsourcing the work would result in the elimination of 10 unionized jobs in the province.

Last fall, the utility announced it was investigating whether to contract outside companies to do line work, maintain a Halifax-area generating station and carry out meter reading.

Nova Scotia Power said Thursday the results of requests for proposals show that replacing the transmission line employees with outside contractors would mean savings to customers.

Sasha Irving, a spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power, said the company isn’t releasing the figures on the savings at this time, but may do so at a future date.

The company said it has signed letters of intent with the suppliers of the line services, but it won’t finalize any outsourcing arrangement until the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has been consulted.

“We have undertaken a complex process, and we are confident that these are the right decisions for our customers,” said Nova Scotia Power CEO Bob Hanf said in a news release.

“Every part of Nova Scotia Power is being examined for potential savings.”

Jeff Richardson, business agent for Local 1928 of the union, said it will launch a grievance if the company lays off inspection employees as a result of contracting out.

He also said he has strong doubts that contracting out would save money and maintain existing service standards.

“A highly skilled tradesperson gets a certain rate of pay. … You’ll still have to pay someone a wage to attract people to work here. Save money? I don’t see it,” he said.

“There’s also a service and reliability factor in this. Our men and women are the best at what they do. You can’t just replace them. It takes years of training.”

Richardson said he will sit down for talks with the utility over the next few weeks.

The company has been under pressure to reduce power rates after a series of increases in recent years, and is in the midst of a two-year plan approved by the Utility and Review Board to find savings of $27.5 million.

It has already contracted out some line work, tree trimming, boiler and turbine work, billing services and some capital construction and maintenance.

The firm is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Emera (TSX:EMA) and has about 1,500 full-time employees.