The revised power pact between New Brunswick and Quebec appears to have appeased some critics and held the support of the business community, but some remain opposed to the sale.
The province released details of the re-worked deal Wednesday.
There are several major differences between the first agreement to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec for $4.75 billion and the second agreement, estimated at $3.2 billion.
Some of the changes include:
- the province will retain ownership over transmission lines to New England;
- and a decrease in the price break being afforded to industry.
Large industrial users that buy more than 5,000 kilowatts every month will see their rates fall an average of 23 per cent, compared to the 30 per cent originally expected. The rate for those using 750-5,000 kW will fall an average of 15 per cent.
Premier Shawn Graham said the government changed the deal due to concerns voiced by New Brunswickers, particularly about energy sovereignty.
David Coon of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick said keeping NB Power’s transmission and distribution systems in the province’s hands is the first step to developing green energy, he said.
“Our proposal is that the public utility we are keeping should have a mandate to develop renewable energy,” he said. “We have to develop a New Brunswick green energy policy instead of proceeding in an ad-hoc way.”
Industry welcomed the deal, despite word they won’t save as much as first thought.
David Plante of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters said the most important aspect of the deal remains the rate stability ratepayers will see over the next five years.
“As with the initial proposal, it provides a clear and cost-effective solution to a very uncertain and difficult future the industrial sector otherwise would have been facing,” he said.
He said he’s predicting double-digit rate increases in the coming years.
Fraser Papers CEO Peter Gordon said while the 23 per cent reduction is less than what was originally proposed, it’s a marked improvement over the status quo.
“I’m very impressed with what the government has been able to achieve,” said Gordon.
“For Fraser, the amount we’ll retain because of this is $6 million a year. That’s $2 million less than what was proposed, but it will help assist us in getting out of bankruptcy protection.”
Barbara Pike of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies – a non-profit research group – said the revised deal and efforts by the province to change its tax system will help the province’s economy.
“The deal continues to make New Brunswick very competitive,” she said.
“You’ve got tax reform and now you’ve got stable power rates that makes it very attractive. When companies are taking a look at where they’re going to move, they’re going to look at a place like this.”
J.D. Irving Ltd. spokeswoman Mary Keith said there’s no question the agreement is a step forward.
“When you look at the fact that 15 out of the 20 large exporting industries in the province, and New Brunswick is very much an export-intensive province … are energy-intensive that account for tens of thousands of jobs, there’s no question this is progress,” she said.
She said competitive energy rates will help sustain jobs.
Energy Minister Jack Keir said New Brunswickers didn’t want to give up the province’s energy sovereignty.
He said retaining transmission lines addresses that concern. He expects to see people who opposed the early version of the deal on the grounds that New Brunswick was selling its energy sovereignty support the re-written agreement.
There was little sign, however, that the grassroots opposition to the deal is about to abate.
Bethany Thorne-Dykstra, president of Put N.B. People First, which has been holding town hall meetings around the province and is calling for a referendum on the matter, said the province needs to give New Brunswickers time to evaluate the deal and consider its implications.
“I find it very concerning not to have a document. We need to see the document.”
Thorne-Dykstra said despite the changes to the deal, her group is maintaining its call for a plebiscite on the agreement.