The lawyer for New Brunswick's Energy and Utilities Board is objecting to NB Power's attempt to keep the salary of its nuclear vice-president secret — setting up a hearing on the issue as early as Wednesday morning.
"Board staff object to this claim for confidentiality," Ellen Desmond wrote in a letter to NB Power lawyer John Furey on Tuesday about the effort to keep the salary being paid to Brett Plummer from being publicly released.
The board will hear arguments on that and other issues on Wednesday at a hearing designed to sort out disputes over evidence that NB Power must provide in advance of its February rate hearing. It is possible NB Power will be given a day to respond to Desmond's letter, which could require a second hearing later in the week.
Plummer is a U.S. Navy-trained nuclear operator who 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 Lepreau's disappointing post-refurbishment performance.
Compensated for low loonie and high taxes
NB Power agreed to pay Plummer enough money to help him achieve similar after-tax income in New Brunswick as he could command in the U.S. That involves paying Plummer extra to compensate for the low Canadian dollar and high Canadian taxes.
The U.S. dollar is currently worth 32 per cent more than the Canadian dollar and New Brunswick residents pay the highest upper income taxes in the country, with the tax on earnings over $200,000 set at 53.3 per cent.
That suggests Plummer would have to be paid substantially more than other NB Power vice-presidents to meet the requirements of his contract, but NB Power does not want to release those details.
Future price protection sought
"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 Plummer's pay confidential.
But in her letter to the EUB, Desmond disputes that.
"Publication of the information in question to the public is necessary in the public interest," she wrote.
'Publication of the information in question to the public is necessary in the public interest.' - Ellen Desmond, lawyer for EUB
"The amounts allocated as compensation are paid by the ratepayers in New Brunswick and this information should be disclosed," Desmond wrote.
"In addition there is no evidence on the record that the public disclosure of this information would undermine the ability of NB Power to obtain competitive pricing for these services in the future."
In addition to Plummer's salary, Desmond also asked for a ruling on whether NB Power should provide some information about the Point Lepreau nuclear plant it has withheld, citing security concerns.
Citizen intervener Gregory Hickey has also made a motion asking for more information on NB Power deals with large industrial customers to buy renewable power from them at prices much higher than what NB Power charges when the electricity is then sold back to the same companies.