NB Power to remain New Brunswick-owned under revised deal with Quebec

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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FREDERICTON - New Brunswick and Quebec have made major changes to the proposed deal to sell NB Power to Hydro-Quebec, including a reduced price tag and dropping some assets from the table.
A document obtained Monday night by The Canadian Press reveals that New Brunswick's power transmission and distribution systems are no longer for sale under a deal that drew concerns from some that if would give Quebec a stranglehold on power exports to the northeastern United States.
The New Brunswick government document reveals that NB Power would also continue to operate as a New Brunswick-owned and operated Crown corporation, employing more than 60 per cent of the utility's current workforce.
Under terms of the original tentative agreement announced in October, Hydro-Quebec would assume the major assets of the New Brunswick utility, including transmission lines, hydroelectric dams and the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant, for $4.75 billion, which equals NB Power's debt.
Residential power rates would be frozen for five years and industrial rates would be cut by about 30 per cent to put them in line with industry in Quebec.
The revised deal - according to the document - is now worth $3.2 billion and would still include hydroelectric facilities and the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant near Saint John, N.B.
On the weekend, a source told The Canadian Press that changes in the deal would reduce the amount of power rate reduction promised for industry in New Brunswick, but the five-year freeze for homeowners would be honoured.
New Brunswick's Liberal government reworked the original deal following a public backlash and criticism within the Liberal caucus.
The government's house leader, Greg Byrne, said Monday that caucus members voiced their concerns at a meeting last Tuesday, prompting a number of "significant" changes to the proposed deal.
"Then, on Thursday, an amended agreement was brought forward to caucus again," he said. "Following that meeting, caucus supported the amended agreement."
Social Development Minister Kelly Lamrock told CBC News on Monday he can't support the proposed deal, and said there are others who feel the same. However, Byrne told reporters the amended agreement got the unanimous support of caucus.
"This has always been a fluid process and there have been concerns expressed by members," Byrne said. "This agreement didn't come about overnight and caucus members have played a role in bringing input forward."
Byrne said the full details of the amended agreement would be officially released Wednesday.
Indications of change began to emerge last week when Premier Shawn Graham changed his standard line to defend the deal by saying the province would retain "ownership and control" of the province's energy future.
Graham did not reveal details of the amended deal Monday, but told reporters his government has listened to the public's concerns.
"New Brunswickers wanted further control and security, and we've listened and we're going to be able to respond," he said.
Premiers Danny Williams of Newfoundland Labrador and Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia have both expressed concerns about how the sale of NB Power assets to Hydro-Quebec would affect each province's ability to export power to the U.S.
David Alward, New Brunswick's Conservative leader, was correct when he told the legislature last Friday that he'd heard the deal had been changed and that transmission lines and the system operator were no longer for sale.

Organizations: NB Power, Hydro-Quebec, Canadian Press CBC News

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Quebec, United States FREDERICTON Saint John Nova Scotia

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