It’s kind of funny. Minister Leonard makes an impassioned defence of NB Power in this opinion piece today positioning the company as a paragon of fiscal management. He never mentions the stranded debt. Never mentions the industrial power rate structure compared to other provinces and states with heavy industry. The last time I looked, NB Power was one of the most debt laden electricity utilities in North America as measured by debt per MW of generation capacity and on a per customer basis.
But has never really been what has bugged me about NB Power. The Minister can pick and choose his words carefully to construct a version of NB Power that he needs. I get politics. I understand this. What I will never understand is how guys like Leonard and most of his predecessors never talk about NB Power as an asset for economic development. Never. Sure, they talked about the economic development from wind energy (which, by the way, is minimal) but never more than that.
Since the 1920s, public energy infrastructure has always been developed through the prism of economic development.
Now, it seems that when we need economic development the most, we take NB Power off the table.
I have called for the government and NB Power to come up with a plan for low cost industrial power. I was talking with a guy involved in the energy industry here in Brazil and he told me that large industrial customers receive very low electricity rates relative to other classes of customer. He said it only makes common sense. Not here. The last time I looked (admittedly nearly two years ago), the rate spread between NB Power’s largest industrial customers and its residential customers was among the tightest in North America – again particularly so compared to jurisdictions with heavy industry.
NB Power could convert Colson Cove to a nat gas fired plant and offer that power at very low rates (comparatively). Call it NB Power Industrial or something similiar. I know the province doesn’t particularly like data centres but considering that Canada is considered the second most attractive location in the world for them, wouldn’t it be nice to at least make an effort. I can’t see the downside from having Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Amazon, etc. here even if it is with relatively few jobs.
But NB Power has never been interested in economic development – only, I guess, in the abstract. In fact, I would go further and say that NB Power resents economic development and equates it to government intrusion in its business. Economic development = political interference.
Funny how all those jurisdictions from Oregon to Alabama have power companies eager to come up with lower rate classes for large industrial clients and I don’t hear much about ‘politicization’.
Anyway, this is a common theme here but I can tell you it doesn’t do much good. Things have only gotten worse in recent years.