A U.S. nuclear expert hired to fix problems at the Point Lepreau generating station is being paid differently — and likely substantially more — than other NB Power executives, but the utility is pushing to keep those details secret.
"Public disclosure of amounts paid under these contracts would undermine the ability of NB Power to obtain competitive pricing for these services in the future," the utility wrote in a request to the Energy and Utilities Board last week to keep the pay of Brett Plummer confidential.
Plummer, a U.S. navy-trained nuclear operator who spent several years at New Hampshire's giant Seabrook nuclear plant, was hired by NB Power as its chief nuclear officer and vice-president nuclear in late 2015.
His job is to oversee attempts to improve Point Lepreau's disappointing post-refurbishment performance.
Since coming back online in 2012 after a four-year refurbishment, Point Lepreau has encountered various problems and fallen short of its budgeted electricity production targets by more than 4,000 hours, or $200 million.
Paid at U.S. rate
NB Power did reveal Plummer has a deal to be paid at U.S. exchange and tax rates, which forces it to compensate him for Canada's low dollar and New Brunswick's high income taxes.
The specific amounts are so far a mystery although the utility has broadly hinted Plummer did not come cheap.
"The market for services for a chief nuclear officer at a nuclear generating station is a competitive market, but is characterized by the extremely small number of qualified individuals capable of providing the service," the utility told the EUB.
'It's really expensive to do it that way.' - Christopher Chen, executive pay specialist
Christopher Chen, an executive pay specialist with Korn Ferry in Toronto, says trying to provide a U.S. executive with the same after-tax income in Canada that he or she could earn in the United States requires paying a 60 per cent to 70 per cent bonus to deal with the exchange and tax differences.
"It's really expensive to do it that way," Chen said. "Most organizations probably won't do that."
Management ranks grow
Salary figures at most New Brunswick government operations are public information, including at NB Power, where the cost and size of its upper management has been coming under increasing scrutiny at annual rate hearings.
The utility now has 10 "senior management positions," up from the six it maintained between 2009 and 2013, with pay bands for those positions also increasing.
According to the province's public documents, NB Power president Gaetan Thomas earned just under $500,000 in 2015, up 40 per cent in four years.
Last year, EUB chairman Raymond Gorman questioned NB Power executives about that trend and this year the board has asked for more details about the cost of senior management at the utility, including Plummer's pay details.
NB Power did share Plummer's information with the EUB but has asked it not be publicly released.
Most NB Power vice-presidents make $250,000 or less, but it is likely Plummer is well above that level, if only because of his tax and exchange rate deal.
- NB Power forced to downgrade Point Lepreau's performance targets
- Point Lepreau operating at reduced capacity
Chris Rouse, an anti-nuclear activist and intervener at NB Power's rate hearing, says he has been impressed by Plummer and would not begrudge him a large salary but says it should be public information.
"I'm not a big fan of Lepreau, but he does give me a little confidence in running the place," Rouse said.
"Maybe he can get it performing a little better. But I do think people deserve to know."