Discussions of a full or partial sale of Point Lepreau generating station to Ontario’s public utility are dredging up memories of the ill-fated deal to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec over a decade ago.
NB Power confirmed Wednesday that the utility is exploring a “business partnership” with Ontario Power Generation (OPG) centering on Point Lepreau. That deal could include a full or partial sale of the nuclear generating station or some sort of operating agreement.
But Green Leader David Coon says the lack of clear information from the government about what is being discussed is reminiscent of former premier Shawn Graham’s attempt to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec in 2009.
“That was, ‘I’m not going to involve New Brunswickers until I have a deal and then I’m going to let them know what I did,’” Coon said of the sale.
“That’s not acceptable. It’s a public utility. These are public assets and the public, the people of New Brunswick, need to hear from the premier what the plan is not, what the final result is after all the negotiations are done.”
But Premier Blaine Higgs remains cagey about the deal, saying it’s far too early to say what it could look like.
“We don’t know what a partnership or a relationship would look like. That’s why it’s early days to say what it could be,” he said.
Point Lepreau has long been a source of trouble for the utility. The plant was refurbished in 2008, a process that ran three years late and $1 billion over budget, but has repeatedly missed performance targets since coming back online in 2012. Unscheduled outages at the plant cost the utility up to $1 million per day, depending on the time of year, and have been a key reason for NB Power’s deteriorating finances and missed debt reduction targets.
Liberal energy critic Keith Chiasson says he’s not necessarily opposed to dumping the plant, but says that it’s important the public is kept in the loop so they can evaluate any potential deal for themselves.
“I think we’re open to it,” Chiasson said. “I’m not disagreeing with the premier saying. Everything is on the table. I think it’s a good thing we’re exploring what do we do with that asset. Obviously, it’s an aging asset. We have to invest money. We have issues with the debt.”
Higgs refused to answer several “hypothetical” questions from reporters surrounding the possible benefits of a sale. He wouldn’t say if a deal could help shed some of the nearly $5 billion in debt carried by NB Power.
“I am not going to presuppose any hypothetical situation. If NB Power comes back and makes a proposal, we’ll make a decision,” he said.
Not everyone is so sure that selling the asset will be beneficial. Coon says he has concerns that dumping the plant would leave NB Power without a way to pay down its debt, particularly if more assets are subsequently sold off.
“If the power plants were sold off and we simply buy the power from the companies that own them, then the debt, it would seem, will fall completely on the backs of all taxpayers,” he said.
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