I have taken a lot of heat over my stand on the closure of the Lepreau nuclear power generating facility so I’ll clarify my position once more. I believe that governments should not be the in the business of subsidizing uneconomic projects in the name of economic development. The experts have said that it makes no economic sense to refurbish Lepreau and I think that the government should make the decision that any responsible organization would make. Consider the CN Shops in Moncton or Saint John Shipbuilding in the port city. Subsidizing these projects further using taxpayer dollars would not have helped. Consider Cape Breton. The government subsidized the coal industry there for 30 years and to what end? Billions spent and Cape Breton is still an economic basket case.
However, I will make one clarification. The Premier and NB Power have not stated the ‘alternative’ to Lepreau. We need the power – it’s that simple. So if the refurbishment of Lepreau will add 6% to power rates, ok, then what is the alternative? A coal-fired plant? What will that add to the cost of power rates? Wind energy? What will that add? Import power from Quebec? What will that add?
If the cost of alternatives is higher than Lepreau, than I am obviously for refurbishment and if the Premier would import power from Quebec, then we must consider the economic loss from importing power and losing the jobs associated with its production.
This is really about the province not wanting to add $1.5 billion in debt to its books – this will undoubtedly lead to higher interest rates (maybe lower ratings) and cause a ripple effect.
But good government is sometimes about making tough decisions. Now it may be time to look at trying to stimulate more private sector investment into the energy sector. Maybe it’s time to look at privatizing NB Power – despite the problems that this generated in Ontario.