New Brunswick government to reintegrate NB Power in bid to save money

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick’s Crown-owned power utility would be reintegrated under legislation introduced Tuesday in a bid by the provincial government to save money.

The new Electricity Act would reassemble NB Power, 10 years after a previous Progressive Conservative government split the company into seven separate divisions.

The legislation sets out new rules for the operation of NB Power and annual power rate increases, as well as integrated the NB Power group of companies into one main firm plus a subsidiary that would handle energy imports and exports.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the restructuring would save up to $12 million each year.

“All of this work is designed to allow NB Power to reduce costs and create efficiencies, still be well-regulated and provide low and stable rates to consumers,” Leonard said Tuesday.

“There was overlap in the utility with the multiple companies and this will streamline things.”

NB Power would be required to defend its rates before the Energy and Utilities Board every year starting in 2015. As it stands now, NB Power can increase rates up to three per cent without a hearing before the board.

The utility would be allowed to increase rates by up to two per cent this October and in October 2014 while NB Power and the board address other regulatory matters that would result from the restructuring.

The provincial government would also no longer have the authority to override a rate decision made by the board.

A three-year freeze on residential power rates comes to an end on Sept. 30.

“After the three-year rate freeze we are pleased that NB Power is able to stay on track to meet its debt reduction target,” Leonard said.

NB Power has committed to reducing its $4.6 billion debt by $1 billion over the next 10 years.

David Coon, leader of the provincial Green party, said the legislation does nothing to prevent a major rate spike after the next election scheduled for September 2014.

“It looks like the decision to put a two per cent cap on rates for the next two years is simply political to get through the next election and then surprise, after the next election they’re going to take a healthy jump,” Coon said.

But NB Power president Gaetan Thomas said the utility is sticking to its 10-year plan that calls for annual rate increases of about two per cent.

He said the utility has gone through efforts to cut costs over the last few years and doesn’t foresee any layoffs as a result of the restructuring.

The new act would also require any vacancies on the NB Power Board of Directors or the job of president to be filled through recruitment using a merit-based process rather than government appointments.