Bennett: We want more details

FOR THE FIRST TIME, a senior Nova Scotia Power executive is talking about the multibillion-dollar deal between NB Power and Hydro-Quebec.

Nova Scotia Power has been studying details of the proposed $4.8-billion takeover announced Oct. 29 but has yet to reach any conclusions, president Rob Bennett said while leaving a luncheon at a downtown Halifax hotel Monday.

“We’re waiting to see what’s going to come in terms of more details about what’s really going to happen,” he said. “We listen to the back and forth and we listen to the information from New Brunswick. We analyze it, we think about it, but we really haven’t concluded anything.”

He also indicated the heavily criticized sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec, expected to close by March 31, would not affect Nova Scotia Power’s 470,000 customers.

“It’s between New Brunswick and Hydro-Quebec, it’s not going to affect our customers directly,” he said. “We’ve been silent because we don’t have a position to take. We’re watching carefully what’s going on.”

The proposed deal would eliminate NB Power’s debt of $4.75 billion. Hydro-Quebec would take over New Brunswick’s nuclear generating facility at Point Lepreau, its hydropower assets, power plants and transmission and distribution system, giving Hydro-Quebec, already North America’s largest utility, a transmission corridor directly into U.S. markets.

Residential rates for NB Power customers would be frozen for five years and industrial rates would be reduced by as much as 30 per cent to match those in Quebec.

The premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador joined forces last week, looking for New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham to agree that they would have the same access to New Brunswick’s power transmission system after the sale as before.

Mr. Bennett wouldn’t say if such a guarantee would be important to Nova Scotia Power and its customers.

“We really haven’t been involved in what’s been going on between the premiers,” he said. “I really don’t have a comment.”

Premier Darrell Dexter said he wants “assurances that the best interests of Nova Scotia and the best opportunities for our region are protected.”

The Canadian Press reported Monday that New Brunswick isn’t prepared to give a written guarantee of access to its transmission system.

Finance Minister Greg Byrne said his province remains open to negotiations with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador about building new transmission lines through New Brunswick to the American market. But a “carte blanche” letter is not in the works, he said.

Mr. Byrne’s comments came Monday in Halifax after his speech to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

Michel Boudreau, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said the Hydro-Quebec takeover could threaten jobs, and Mr. Graham’s Liberal government will pay a heavy political price if it pushes the sale through.

Hydro-Quebec president Thierry Vandal promoted the $4.8-billion deal in a speech in Saint John, N.B., Monday, saying it would stabilize power rates in New Brunswick.

Dalhousie University professor David Wheeler, who is holding consultations on Nova Scotia’s renewable energy strategy, supports the premiers’ attempts to get guaranteed access for future green energy exports.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that we have a grid that is flexible and connected,” he said at a Halifax luncheon sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs. “Whether you are a municipality in Nova Scotia generating renewable energy, or NSP, or running a nuclear plant, you need access to the grid to buy and sell.”

‘It’s in everyone’s interest that we have a grid that is flexible and connected.’