David Ganong, right, and Louis Lapierre release their expert panel on the New Brunswick government's plan to sell parts of NB Power to Hydro-Québec. ((CBC))

A special panel of experts has endorsed the proposed deal to sell a majority of NB Power's assets to Hydro-Québec.

David Ganong, the panel's chairman, released the report in Fredericton on Monday.

"The panel concluded that if the proposal is implemented it would be a good deal for New Brunswick — unqualified," Ganong told reporters.

"The rate savings over the short and long term were an important part of what drew us to that conclusion."

The report also said there were environmental benefits and reduced financial risks related to the utility's debt.

The Liberal government's proposed power deal would sell NB Power's hydro dams, the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station and some smaller units to Hydro-Québec for $3.2 billion.

New Brunswick would retain control of NB Power's transmission and distribution companies.

Under the deal, the Quebec utility would freeze residential rates for five years, while large industrial power prices would drop 23 per cent and medium-sized businesses would get a roughly 15 per cent rate cut.

The report concludes that electricity prices in New Brunswick would be lower in the "near and long term" under the proposed sale.

"The panel agreed that implementation of the proposal would be a good financial deal for New Brunswick electricity customers," the report says.

Residential, commercial and wholesale customer rates are expected to average more than six per cent lower during the first 10 years and 13 per cent lower by 2030, according to the report.

Additionally, large industrial power rates should be more than 20 per cent lower on average during the first 10 years and 23 per cent lower by 2030.

The panel's report also says the agreement will curtail risks that could affect rates, such as ending the reliance on power plants that burn fossil fuels.

Fair market value for assets

The report says it accepts the finding that New Brunswick is getting fair market value for the assets being sold to Hydro-Québec,

It also concludes there should be environmental benefits from the deal.

The Ganong panel offered a series of recommendations to the provincial government such as boosting the powers of the Energy and Utilities Board, which regulates NB Power. It is also calling for the end of "government interference in its decisions." The New Brunswick cabinet can overrule decisions made by the regulator.

The Ganong panel, which was appointed by the New Brunswick government to offer suggestions on the massive power deal, also included John McLaughlin, the former University of New Brunswick president, Elizabeth Weir, the chief executive officer of Efficiency New Brunswick, Allison McCain, chair of McCain Foods Ltd., Louis Lapierre, a former K.C. Irving chair in sustainable development at the University of Moncton and Gilles Lepage, a former co-chairman of the provincial government's self-sufficiency task force.

Panel defends participants

The Ganong panel spent two months talking with different groups of experts, government bureaucrats and regulatory officials about the impact of the energy deal.

However, it did not speak to many organizations that were critical of the proposal.

Ganong defended the panel's choice of who it consulted on Monday.

"We wanted to have people come before the panel that we thought could add value to our deliberations," Ganong said.

"We were sensitive to try to stay away from the politics of this matter, which is very highly sensitive, as you well know."

Ganong said the group spent its time analyzing the deal and not what could be done differently.

By not consulting with a wide variety of organizations, Progressive Conservative MLA Jody Carr said that left little room for opposing points of view in the Ganong panel's final report.

"What's very clear is that the masses of New Brunswick have not been part of the process," Carr said.

"We've seen in the report that only one person in New Brunswick who was against the deal or had a contrary opinion was invited to participate, and that's [University of Moncton professor] Yves Gagnon," Carr said.