Question Period: Subsidies for Industry – July 6, 2016

Here is the video and transcript of oral questions recorded in the language in which it was originally spoken.

Mr. Coon: On Canada Day, our power rates went up. Yes, New Brunswick ratepayers continue to subsidize the large industrial operations in this province with their power bills through a program that is deceptively named the Large Industrial Renewable Energy Purchase Program. However, no energy is purchased by NB Power from this program. According to evidence that NB Power tabled with the Energy and Utilities Board, this amounted to $38.8 million that we paid to heavy industry in this province in 2014-15, and we did not receive a kilowatt-hour of power in return. Will the Minister of Energy and Resource Development undertake to end this giveaway to heavy industry in our province?

Hon. Mr. Doucet: I would like to thank the member opposite for the question, and I welcome his questions. As a matter of fact, I certainly look forward to the member opposite coming in to visit with the folks at NB Power to get an understanding or a grasp of what is taking place there. As part of the revenue requirements going before the Energy and Utilities Board, there was a 1.63% increase that was granted for the power rates. However, the EUB had a look at the operations and felt that it should be 1.66%. The original request was 2%. The actual granted amount was a little bit lower than what came forward. However, we have to realize that, on the energy efficiency side, with time-of-day savings and the things that people can do, people could go onto the Web site to see what it is they could do to save. The power rates are going up by approximately $4 per month, on average. NB Power is providing safe, affordable rates—the lowest in Atlantic Canada.

Mr. Speaker: Time.

Mr. Coon: The deceptively named Large Industrial Renewable Energy Purchase Program does not put any power on NB Power’s grid, renewable or otherwise. NB Power is paying for power that heavy industry self-generates for internal use, consuming it all behind the power meters. NB Power is not purchasing renewable power for its grid. It is giving a handout to heavy industry to subsidize its power costs, and the rest of us are paying for it. Our power rates go up. The EUB says that it cannot touch that because it is public policy. It is in the Electricity Act. It is in regulation. The EUB cannot consider it when weighing whether or not to grant a power increase to NB Power. Only the minister could make the difference. Only the minister could remove or eliminate the Large Industrial Renewable Energy Purchase Program to save New Brunswick ratepayers $30 million plus per year.

Hon. Mr. Doucet: Once again, I invite the member opposite to come see the utility. My door is open, at any point. The olive branch is out to have a discussion about rates and about how everything works at NB Power. The EUB had a job to do. As far as we are concerned and as far as I am concerned, the EUB did its job. We have the best power rates in the Maritimes. That has taken a lot of work by the individuals at NB Power, to work on their performance and their performance standards to try to keep the rates down as low as possible while, at the same time, paying down a degree of debt and, at the same time, investing in infrastructure improvements. It is also investing in areas such as tree trimming and moving the lines back. A lot of work has gone into NB Power over the past number of years. We are supportive, and we are working with it. Objectively, the conversation that we really need to maintain . . .

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.

Mr. Coon: We are looking for answers from the minister in this House. When the former Alward government amended the Electricity Act to remit this massive handout to heavy industry, the member for Campbellton-Dalhousie was in opposition. During that debate, the member said that the Liberals were really concerned that residential customers and small business customers would be subsidizing large industrial customers through this program. He thought it was wrong. Well, he was right, and, until recently, the member was the Minister of Energy. However, this government has simply perpetuated this massive subsidy to heavy industry. How does the Minister of Energy and Resource Development justify prolonging such a subsidy at the expense of ordinary New Brunswick ratepayers?

Hon. Mr. Doucet: Just to reiterate the fact, we have the lowest rates in the Maritimes. I think that speaks volumes. The Energy and Utilities Board did its job. Originally, it was 1.63%, and it changed it to 1.66% based on the revenue requirements that NB Power had. To the member opposite, my door is open to have some discussions about rates and about how the system works. If we look at the corporation, it maintains one of North America’s most diverse generating systems of 12 hydro, coal, oil, or diesel power generating stations. Some 75% of our in-province load is provided by these systems. NB Power also operates and maintains a CANDU with 660-MW service out of Point Lepreau. NB Power has been doing its job, working to remove costs from the operation and working with the EUB so that we can have the lowest rates in the Maritimes.

Mr. Speaker: Time, minister.