Confusion is still swirling around the value attached to the Point Lepreau nuclear power station that’s being sold to Hydro-Quebec as part of a $3.2-billion deal.
But the Tories are promising to release all the financial details of the deal, including the value of Lepreau, if they win the provincial election in September.
“We will be very open,” said Opposition house leader Paul Robichaud.
“We will be very transparent and we will give all the information the government of New Brunswick is hiding from the people of New Brunswick right now.”
The only exception will be confidential cabinet documents, said Robichaud. It was reported Wednesday that the value of Lepreau in the deal is $1.4 billion. That was based on Energy Minister Jack Keir’s response to questions from the Opposition about the nuclear power plant during Tuesday’s question period.
But Keir said Wednesday that the $1.4 billion is the second payment Hydro-Quebec will make on the $3.2 billion deal in 2011 if Lepreau works after its refurbishment is complete.
“Yesterday, the (Opposition) member stood up and said that the value of the nuclear plant at Gentilly (in Quebec) was $10 billion and that we were selling ours for $1.4 billion,” said the energy minister. “Both of those facts are wrong, by the way.”
He deflected all additional questions about the value of Lepreau, frequently referring to a recent commentary supporting the energy deal by former Tory-appointed NB Power chairman Derek Burney.
Robichaud was frustrated by not getting a clear answer on the value of Lepreau.
“I hope you had more luck than us, you know, with your questions to the minister,” he told reporters.
“Once again, the minister completely refused to answer our questions today.”
Reporters didn’t have any luck getting an answer out of Keir about the value of Lepreau after question period.
He said the Opposition did a study in 2001 that evaluated all of NB Power, including Lepreau, as being worth between $2.8 billion and $4.1 billion for everything.
“We’ve since done evaluations that show very similar numbers,” said Keir. A third-party expert reviewed that study and agrees with those numbers, he said.
There must be a link between the $1.4-billion second payment after Lepreau has been refurbished and the value of Lepreau, insisted a reporter.
“It is the second payment in the payment schedule,” replied Keir. “We negotiated the payment schedule with Hydro-Quebec.
“Now, if we believe that the value of Point Lepreau is more than the $1.4 billion, then I would hope that everyone would say that we did a great job in negotiating.”
Robichaud thinks he knows why Keir won’t talk about the value of Lepreau in the deal.
“He probably realizes that we didn’t get the best bang for our buck,” he said.
Keir also won’t say if NB Power CEO and president David Hay, who announced Tuesday he’s stepping down Sunday, is restricted from talking about the Hydro-Quebec deal as part of his severance.
“I’m not going there,” Keir said twice when reporters raised the issue after question period.
During question period, he was asked about whether Hay could comment on the deal after his resignation is official.
“I do not think David Hay has ever been muzzled in his position as president of NB Power, and I think he would agree with that,” said Keir.
The Opposition also questioned the government about an analysis of the power deal that was prepared for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a non-profit research group.
The document prepared by Gordon Weil, president of Standard Energy Co. of Maine, raises questions about what will happen to power rates in New Brunswick following a five-year rate freeze for homeowners. He said costs will have to be deferred and then recovered in the sixth year, resulting in significant rate increases.
Robichaud said he agrees with the report.
But Keir said that won’t be the case.
“Quebec has absolutely, positively, no control over electricity increases in the province of New Brunswick in year six – none, zero,” he said. “It’s going to be based on inflation, and it’s going to be based on NB Power going before the Energy and Utilities Board to justify any increases to transmission and distribution for year six.”
With files from The Canadian Press