New Brunswick

N.B. allegedly wanted to award $1.4B contract without public tender

The New Brunswick Liberal government is being accused by NB Power of pressuring the utility to award a $1.4 billion wind-energy contract without going to public tender.

The New Brunswick Liberal government is being accused by NB Power of pressuring the utility to award a $1.4 billion wind-energy contract without going to public tender.

The allegation was made in an affidavit filed by NB Power CEO and president David Hay in a legal dispute between the utility and Toronto-based SkyPower Corp.

The lawsuit revolves around whether a member of NB Power's board of directors sabotaged SkyPower's 2006 bid on the $1.4 billion contract.

SkyPower alleges it lost the 20-year contract because Norm Betts, a member of the utility's board and a former Conservative cabinet minister, was in a conflict of interest.

Betts is also a director of a wind-energy company, Ventus Energy Inc., which was also bidding on the NB Power contract. In Betts's affidavit, he says he told NB Power about his connection with Ventus and that he did not attend any board discussions about the wind energy project.

SkyPower had said that if it won the contract, it would set up a windmill manufacturing plant in Miramichi with its local partner, Atcon Construction, creating 200 jobs in the province. But the company didn't make the list of finalists for the contract.

According to court documents, Atcon was represented by lobbyist and former Liberal cabinet minister Doug Tyler. Tyler, who also works for the consulting firm Revolution Strategy, told CBC News he only took Atcon as a client in early 2007 and was not representing the company in 2006, when he co-chaired the transition team for the Liberals after they won the provincial election.

SkyPower allegedly tried to use the prospect of job creation as a way to get around the tendering process, according to Hay's affidavit.

The affidavit says that the government liked the job-creation concept and when SkyPower was rebuffed by NB Power, Hay was called into a meeting with Premier Shawn Graham, Energy Minister Jack Keir and other officials in January 2007.

"It was suggested to me at this meeting that NBP [NB Power] could consider the purchase of additional wind energy without embarking on a public tendering process," says Hay's affidavit.

The document doesn't indicate if it was Graham or another official that allegedly gave the order.

According to the affidavit, Hay says he indicated that NB Power's board would have to approve awarding the project without going to tender. But the board rejected it in February 2007, preferring to continue with its public tendering process that is meant to provide fair consideration to all proposals.

In May 2007, the government then issued a new tender for wind power, this time including the requirement of job-creation in the province, which SkyPower has again bid on.

According to SkyPower's court documents, however, the company says it believes it will lose to Ventus and wants a judge to block NB Power from awarding the contract and order them to restart the process.

NB Power, Betts, the premier's office and the Energy Department declined to comment.

No court date has been set yet and nothing in the court documents has been proven in court.

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