New Brunswick Finance Minister Greg Byrne says it’s too early to talk about what his government might want for allowing Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to build a power transmission corridor through his province.
Premier Darrell Dexter and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams wrote to their New Brunswick counterpart, Shawn Graham, last week asking for an agreement to be in place by February to construct a new transmission line through New Brunswick to the Maine border.
Mr. Dexter and Mr. Williams want an agreement in place before Hydro-Quebec’s purchase of NB Power is finalized.
Mr. Graham responded that New Brunswick is open to talk about more transmission, and that the rules for adding capacity won’t change once the Hydro-Quebec deal is done.
Mr. Byrne wouldn’t be drawn into saying what it would take to allow a new transmission corridor through his province.
“I think anything is speculative, at this point,” Mr. Byrne said Monday after a luncheon speech in downtown Halifax.
“I think we would just welcome the discussions, and we’re not even sure that that would be a decision that Newfoundland and Nova Scotia would want to pursue.
“I think we’d have to wait until we had a proposal on the table, and then have a very open dialogue.”
Mr. Byrne said his government cannot give its Atlantic counterparts a written guarantee on new transmission.
“Certainly, we’re not in a position to give a carte blanche letter that . . . indicates you can build these transmission lines without any other considerations. That would be unrealistic.”
Mr. Byrne said discussions on all the issues in a matter like that, such as the route and environmental concerns, could take years.
Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia are worried that Hydro-Quebec could end up blocking access to the northeastern United States energy market.
Mr. Williams wants to send hydroelectricity from the proposed Lower Churchill development there, and Mr. Dexter wants that energy to go through Nova Scotia.
The proposed sale of NB Power has generated lots of controversy since it was announced in October.
Under the proposal, Hydro-Quebec would get most of the utility’s assets for $4.75 billion, enough to pay off the utility’s debt. New Brunswickers would get $5 billion more in power rate savings, Mr. Byrne said, plus eliminate the risks associated with the utility’s debt and the future cost of carbon emissions and fuel.
Residents would see rates frozen for five years, while industrial customers would see immediate savings of 15 to 30 per cent.
Labour representatives from New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador were also at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies luncheon, and grilled Mr. Byrne on the deal, scheduled to close by the end of March.
Michel Boudreau, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said the Graham government should be living up to its 2006 promise not to sell the utility. He also said it should postpone the deal until after next fall’s scheduled election.
Mr. Boudreau said he is concerned that new businesses in New Brunswick would have to negotiate a rate with Hydro-Quebec, and that could make them less likely to come to the province.
Mr. Byrne also touted his province’s tax cut plan as a way to make his province more competitive. It includes having two personal income tax brackets instead of four, and reducing the corporate tax rate.
The four-year plan will generate $380 million in tax savings, most of that in personal income taxes, he said. The Dexter government is looking at tax increases.