A lament for NB Power

Contrary to what you might think, this will not be a rant against the botched Orimulsion deal that will cost the province (i.e. you and me) $2 billion. It will not question in detail how NB Power could complete a $700 million refit of Colson Cove on a non-binding MOU with Venezuela. How NB Power could spend $300,000 on legal fees for a lawsuit that an influencial New Brunswick lawyer said was futile $300,000 ago. How an inquiry into the whole process peetered out without any responsibility or accountability.

No, this will be a lament about NB Power, in general.

My first job in New Brunswick 15 years ago was to develop the business case for attracting businesses to the province. We were just starting to attract call centres and we needed a good case. So I looked at the benefits. Lower cost of living, bilingual labour, cheap office space, great telecommunications, etc. During the process of this review, I found out that NB Power’s rates, both residential and business, were among the lowest in Canada. That we generated a pile of surplus power and sold it tothe US at a premium. That our nuclear power plant was known worldwide as a model facility. NB Power was a key part of the New Brunswick business case.

Fast forward a short 15 years. Now we have among the highest power rates in Canada. NB Power has one of the highest debt loads. And by 2007, apparently we will be out of power. Colson Cove is in shambles and a government funded study recommended mothballing Lepreau. Somebody close to the issue told me that the most effective course of action now would be to close all the power plants as they run down and import all our power from Quebec.

Go from the best to the worst in a decade and a half. You couldn’t have orchestrated a faster fall from grace if you wanted to.

Now most of the NB Power folks blame government interference. We shouldn’t have built Belledune. We shouldn’t retrofit Lepreau. It’s too political. Others blame internal ineptitude. Others blame the weather.

One things for sure. As with almost every major issue in this province, governments put off and put off until they have no choice but to act. And even at that the current administration is making every attempt to delay and delay until the next bunch of well intended dupes get in and realize the gravity of the situation.

Bottom line. One of our top advantages is now a liability. If companies locate in New Brunswick it will be in spite of NB Power.

I don’t care how we got here. I would just like to see some plan put forward that would restore some of our advantages in the energy area – if it’s not too late.

And as for Venezuela – here’s a tip that’ll cost you nothing. Next time you sign a deal with a third world country with a known wacko as a leader – make sure you have a little more than an Albert County spit handshake deal. An actual, legally binding contract would be nice.

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