FREDERICTON - The coalition of New Brunswickers opposed to the sale of NB Power assets to Hydro-Quebec says there are other options, but the New Brunswick government isn't listening.
Ten speakers presented their ideas at a public forum hosted by the coalition Monday in Fredericton. They suggested the government focus more on wind and tidal power, nuclear energy or biomass technology.
Members of the Conservative, New Democratic and Green parties attended the forum, but no members of the Liberal government took part.
"We put this together partially to provide the government with an opportunity to sit and hear what the options are, and it's very disappointing that we didn't have a single member of the Liberal caucus attend today," said organizer Tom Mann.
Mann said while the coalition opposes the proposal to sell 10 power plants to Hydro-Quebec for $3.2 billion, it knows there's no simple alternative.
"The purpose here wasn't to identify one plan, but rather to raise the level of the debate and the discussion that there are many alternatives available to New Brunswick and should be looked at by this government," he said.
Gordon Weil, president of Standard Energy Company of Maine, called the government's plan a permanent solution to the temporary problem of NB Power's debt and rising power rates.
He said the proposed deal creates the potential of Hydro-Quebec domination of the New England energy market.
"A more open use of the NB Power transmission system - owned by NB Power and managed by it, and allowing lots of people to use the transmission system if they had something to sell - is more profitable to NB Power and more useful to New England."
Michael Buzas, president of Elmtree Resources Ltd., said there needs to be a regional approach to meeting future energy needs.
He said as carbon credits become a bigger factor, projects like the Lower Churchill hydro power development will become key. He advocates the construction of underwater power cables linking Newfoundland and Labrador with New Brunswick.
"New Brunswick has a historic opportunity to bring everybody to the table," Buzas said.
David Coon, policy director of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, said the government must put more emphasis on the development of renewable energy sources within the province, and could use hydro power from Quebec to supplement that.
Conservative Leader David Alward didn't speak at the forum, but did attend. He repeated his call for the government to halt the deal with Quebec.
Alward said the government must first develop a long-term energy policy for the province.
"The reality is that the energy policy should be developed before we come forward with changes for the future and that energy policy needs to include many options and include New Brunswickers," he said.
New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham has stated he wants to sign the energy deal by the end of March in order to avoid an expected three per cent increase in power rates April 1.
Under the deal, residential power rates in New Brunswick would be frozen for five years, while rates for large industrial customers would see an immediate cut of about 23 per cent.