No sign yet of expected July 1 power rate hike in New Brunswick
It's been nearly 50 days since the extended EUB rate hearing concluded
New Brunswick electricity customers may escape a July 1 rate increase — like they did on April 1 — as the Energy and Utilities Board continues to deliberate on key NB Power financial and operational issues it has had under consideration for several weeks.
The delay in the rate hike in particular is a problem for NB Power, costing it about $50,000 a day in new revenue, in a year the utility has already experienced unexpected financial problems.
An NB Power customer who pays an average of $200 per month for electricity has been saving about $3 per month plus HST in higher rates while the EUB considers the application for higher rates.
"We will make every possible effort to have a decision as fast as we can," said EUB vice-chairman Francois Beaulieu as he declared an end to a marathon hearing into a variety of NB Power issues on May 10, including the utility's application to adopt smart meters and its request to raise rates to customers 1.5 per cent.
But nearly seven weeks later, those issues are still awaiting rulings, a delay Beaulieu hinted back in May could happen given the length of the hearing and range of issues it dealt with.
"There is a volume of documents that this panel needs to review. There is a large volume of transcripts," said Beaulieu as hearings finally concluded.
"It may take a month or two. I can't say how long it is going to take, but it is going to take some time."
In the past, rate decisions have been announced by the EUB at least four full business days before they take effect to give NB Power time to implement the change and incorporate any special orders of the board.
That would have required a rate decision last Monday to comfortably implement by July 1, but as of end of business Wednesday no decisions had been announced.
NB Power had originally hoped to get a rate increase approved much earlier, for April 1, and filed for a rate hearing last October to give plenty of time to make that happen.
But what was supposed to be a 12-day hearing conducted over two and a half weeks in February instead ballooned into a 31-day examination that stretched over three full months ending in May.
Intense examination of NB Power's request to spend more than $100 million to deploy smart meters to all of its customers pushed proceedings behind schedule, a situation that only worsened as the rate request and other issues underwent their own review.
Point Lepreau outage
NB Power originally budgeted for a $62.3 million profit in the current fiscal year if it got a rate increase by April 1. The three-month delay in that decision so far has cost the utility about $5 million in foregone revenue
In addition, an extended maintenance outage at the Point Lepreau nuclear station this spring that lasted 18 days longer than expected has put NB Power under additional financial pressure as it waits on a rate increase.
The utility has not provided a cost for that extra long outage yet, but based on previous estimates of $1 million per day it has provided on the expense of a Lepreau shutdown, an extra 18 days would dig deeply into its expected profit this year.
"We are working with our Corporate headquarters in Fredericton to help determine the actual costs," said NB Power spokesman Paul Doucet earlier this month about the financial impact of the extended Lepreau outage.
The fastest the EUB has delivered a rate decision following a hearing is 31 days, which it did last year. However, in 2015 the board took 76 days to make a ruling. As of Wednesday, it had been 48 days since this year's rate hearing concluded.