New Brunswick

NB Power sends $2.5M annual contract out of province without usual tendering process

NB Power's decision to end a 40-year multi-million dollar partnership with a New Brunswick company to purchase its power poles was exempt from the usual tendering process and did not necessarily choose the lowest bidder.

NB Power expects to save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually depending on the number of poles purchased

For the last 40 years, Marwood provided power poles to NB Power. Now the provincial utility has decided to purchase poles from the large North American company Stella Jones. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

NB Power's decision to end a 40-year, multimillion-dollar partnership with a New Brunswick company to purchase its power poles was exempt from the usual tendering process and did not necessarily choose the lowest bidder. 

On Monday night, NB Power said the utility expects "to save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually depending on the number of poles purchased." 

"The amount of the new contract – how much we will spend on poles, will only be known when we begin buying new poles from Stella Jones," wrote Marc Belliveau, spokesperson for NB Power. 

According to the province's General Procurement Act, NB Power is exempt from having to publicly tender "those specialized components, materials, and services that relate specifically to the generation, transmission, or distribution of electricity." 

NB Power did confirm the contract to purchase between 6,000 and 8,000 power poles a year from Marwood has been valued at $2.5 million dollars annually. 

NB Power spokesperson Marc Belliveau could not say how much money, if any, NB Power would save by switching it's power pole supplier. (Shane Fowler/CBC)
Earlier this month NB Power stated it would now be getting its pressure-treated power poles from the large North American company Stella Jones, instead of from locally owned Marwood in Tracyville. 

According to its website, Stella Jones operates 34 wood-treating facilities in five Canadian provinces and 16 American states, but none in New Brunswick.  

The closest Canadian Stella Jones plants are in Nova Scotia and Quebec. 

Documents obtained by CBC News show that the deal was done collectively with Nova Scotia Power.

In its instructions to those companies hoping to obtain the power pole contract, NB Power stated that the aim of the partnership was to "realize significant cost savings and lower total cost of ownership across both utilities by leveraging greater combined buying power." 

That Request for Proposal document also states that while "consideration will be given to the most cost-effective method of meeting the scope of work requirements," the companies were "not bound by the process to select the top-ranked proponent."

NB Power states the contract is only "renewable every three years." 

Strong Local Reaction 

No one from Marwood would speak on the record with CBC News, but Jeff Carr, the Progressive Conservative MLA for the area, said he was involved with some of the talks between the company and NB Power for months. 

"It's devastating to the local area," said Carr, who represents New Maryland-Sunbury. "And it sends a bad message to New Brunswickers.

"The logs that make those poles come off of Crown land and Marwood buys those at a good premium price. That won't happen any longer. The skidder crews that cut them — they won't be cutting them. The truckers that truck them to the mill won't be trucking them to the mill. So there's a trickle-down effect that could reach I don't know how many people." 

Jeff Carr, the MLA for New Maryland-Sunbury, used strong language on a Facebook video condemning the NB Power deal. (Shane Fowler/CBC)
Earlier this month Carr posted a Facebook Live video to his followers that now has more than 42,000 views and hundreds of angry comments directed at NB Power about the contract change. 

"Up yours NB Power," said Carr in his post. 

"There's no excuse for not using common sense and not buying our own damn poles right here in New Brunswick. It's wrong on so many levels."


Shane Fowler


Shane Fowler has been a CBC journalist based in Fredericton since 2013.