Energy: Finance minister reassures N.S., N.L. that both provinces will have an opportunity to route their power through New Brunswick – ‘if the economics make sense’

HALIFAX – The Graham government hit the road Monday in an effort to sell skeptics on the proposed sale of NB Power, with Finance Minister Greg Byrne selling the controversial plan in Nova Scotia.

In Halifax, Byrne stressed that the deal doesn’t kill the opportunity for other provinces – namely Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador – to push power through New Brunswick to American markets.

But he also said the province is not going to provide a “carte blanche letter” guaranteeing future access to the New Brunswick transmission grid.

In recent weeks, Nova Scotia’s Darrell Dexter and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams have expressed opposition to the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec, saying the deal would box them out of the regional electricity grid.

Last week, Williams and Dexter wrote Premier Shawn Graham seeking assurances that their provinces would be able to ship power through New Brunswick in the future. They also want a commitment on a new transmission corridor through the province before the sale is complete in March.

Graham responded Friday with his own letter, stating the rules for exporting power to the United States won’t change after the sale.

On Monday, Byrne gave reassurances that both provinces will have an opportunity to route their power through New Brunswick – “if the economics make sense.”

Yet Byrne also said New Brunswick cannot give a “carte blanche letter” guaranteeing the construction of new transmission lines, because such developments require years of planning and negotiations over land and environmental issues.

“That would be unrealistic,” he told reporters.

“Any process like that takes time and there are many considerations that would have to be discussed.

“What we’re saying is that we’re very open to pursuing those discussions.”

Byrne, who delivered a luncheon speech organized by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, found some support amongst the business and political crowd.

David Gough, chair of the Atlantic chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Canada, said Byrne’s speech proved that a deal had to be made.

For instance, Byrne noted that by 2025 NB Power’s debt would likely top $16 billion, up from the current $4.75 billion.

“A $16-billion debt is unsustainable for any Atlantic Canadian province,” Gough said after the speech.

“The citizens just cannot afford a debt like that, so something has to be done.”

The speech didn’t get all positive reviews, however.

A number of union representatives attended the event and proceeded to berate Byrne during the question and answer period.

Michel Boudreau, president of the NB Federation of Labour, chastised the Liberals for breaking their 2006 election pledge to keep NB Power as a publicly-owned utility.