Premier David Alward is putting the province's energy future into the hands of a former Tory energy minister and a political consultant with Conservative connections.

Alward announced that Jeannot Volpé, the former interim Tory leader, and Bill Thompson, a Saint John energy consultant, would lead the energy commission that the Progressive Conservatives promised during the election campaign.

"New Brunswickers want predictability and stability in the energy sector, knowing that their ideas and concerns are being addressed in setting out a long-term energy strategy," Alward said in a statement.

Six-month task

Alward has given the two energy commissioners six months to craft a new energy policy.

The energy commission has been asked to:

  • Hold public consultations with New Brunswick citizens and neighbouring provinces and states.
  • Advise on a clear energy policy.
  • Examine the possibilities for long-term energy purchase agreements.
  • Examine energy production, consumption and exports.
  • Develop measurable targets on economic activity, environmental performance, cost, reliability and financial performance.
  • Advise the government on a long-term debt-management strategy for NB Power.

"This commission will provide concrete, specific actions on how we can best ensure New Brunswick can enjoy a viable, stable and healthy energy sector now and in the future."

Volpé was the minister of Natural Resources and Energy when the former Bernard Lord government restructured NB Power and mapped out a new energy policy. Volpé's plan led to the unbundling of NB Power into competing subsidiaries.

When the Lord government made the Department of Energy a stand-alone ministry, Thompson took over as the department's deputy minister. Thompson also served as the deputy minister inside Lord's Premier's Office.

Thompson was one of the deputy ministers that left when the Lord government was defeated in 2006.

Thompson was also a consultant for the Liberal government who was tasked to come up with a new energy strategy.

That report, which was co-authored with William Marshall, the former president of the New Brunswick System Operator, was shelved when the Liberals tried to sell NB Power to Hydro-Québec last October.

Lepreau delays won't affect rate freeze: Alward

At the press conference on Friday, Alward defended his choice of the two men and a decision to pay each about $75,000 for the six-month assignment.

Volpé said he would turn down his $42,000 severance cheque as a retiring MLA to take the commission assignment.

However, the commission announcement quickly gave way to questions about another Tory promise — the three-year rate freeze announced before Polint Lepreau's latest problems were made public.

NB Power announced on Thursday the refurbishment of Atlantic Canada's only nuclear reactor is three years behind schedule and will likely end up approximately $1 billion over budget.

But Alward said on Friday delays in the refurbishment project would not affect his promise to freeze provincial power rates for three years.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said Lepreau's latest problems should not affect NB Power's rate requirements.

However, NB Power's president Gaetan Thomas indicated on Thursday the company would need to look at the impact of the delay before making a commitment to the rate freeze.