Tuesday, May 4, 2010

 

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

I don't wish to resurrect the debate: History could show New Brunswickers will pay dearly for (I will politely describe) their knee-jerk reaction to Hydro Quebec's plan to buy NB Power.

The deal is over and done with - Unlikely to ever be reopened. I said at the time that Premier Shawn Graham's decision to enter into the arrangement to sell New Brunswick's hopelessly indebted public utility was a noble decision and right for the province of my birth...though it could cost him the 2010 election. (SEE: "Graham's Waterloo" - January 6, 2010)

Instead; as the political pressure diverted from other equally important matters, and facing irrational and eventually unsustainable protest, Premier Graham's government scuttled the deal. Hydro Quebec's plan was to take-over all of NB Power's assets and debts, pay New Brunswick a decent profit to be applied to the provincial debt, guarantee lowered electric costs and complete refurbishing the idled Point Lepreau Nuclear Power plant.

Let's not lose sight of the plain fact that NB Power's crushing debt load is unsustaintable and grows by more than a million dollars each day the Lepreau Generators are shut-down. That project is now about 18 months behind schedule and is unlikely to return to production until well into 2011. Just last week, Prince Edward Island confirmed that it's negotiating a power purchase deal with Quebec because the electricity it must buy from New Brunswick is just getting too expensive.

Politics and politicians make strange bedfellows. Increasingly strong anecdotal evidence seems to suggest there was more to the New Brunswick/Quebec deal last winter than anyone suspected. It's not a spy novel, but it reads like this:

In the wake of the now two-year old fiasco at the Chalk River (Ontario) reactor which produces precious medical isotopes; The Federal Government revealed a decision in the summer of 2009 to sell off the Candu Division of Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL). The thirty year old "Candu 6" reactor at New Brunswick's Point Lepreau was AECL's first...and it's now saddled with Billions ($) to fix it, and Hundreds of Millions ($) in delays and cost overruns.

The European based International Investment Bank Rothschild brought-in by the Feds to oversee the AECL sale briefed nuclear building conglomerates this week. It seems those who've expressed interest in our Canadian assets from France (AREVA), Japan (Toshiba), USA (General Electric), Russia (AtomEnergoProm); may want the technology without the pesky problems, of which New Brunswick's Lepreau is the poster-child.

We'll never know for sure. - Conspiracy theorists though might ponder a scenario early last fall once Ottawa determined to dump 100% of Atomic Energy, where Federal operatives approached Quebec Premier Charest with a potential "Win Win" proposal:
Cash rich Hydro Quebec buys NB Power and gets the Lepreau mess off everyone's back. New Brunswick's "unsustainable" debt gets relief and cheaper energy flows to Prince Edward island and New Brunswick; including Irving & McCain's the backbone of its economic base. Hydro Quebec secures a massive second energy corridor through to the 100+ million Americans who live within a day's drive of New Brunswick. In doing so it shuts-off the pesky Danny Williams' efforts from Newfoundland to skirt the Quebec grid and sell hydro from the Lower Churchill Project directly to the Americans. Sweet!

After we're gone, historians may glimpse into what could have been. But as everyone now suspects, AECL and Candu are unlikely to survive because any international purchaser will simply want to sell its own reactors rather the the Candu's problematic technology. In the end: New Brunswick ratepayers may pay dearly.

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