New Brunswick

More transparency needed at NB Power to avoid Joi Scientific repeat, says political panel

Improving transparency at NB Power was one of the highlights of this week’s political panel, which included a wide-ranging discussion on the Crown corporation.

Energy minister says balance needs to be struck between transparency and operational effectiveness

NB Power CEO Gaëtan Thomas posed with Joi Scientific executives Robert Koeneman and Traver Kennedy on a beach in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The utility has a multi-million-dollar licensing agreement with Joi Scientific. (Joi Scientific)

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Improving transparency at NB Power was one of the highlights of this week's political panel, which included a wide ranging discussion on the crown corporation.

This comes after some controversial moves by the public utility, including the decision to invest in Joi Scientific.

The corporation poured $6.5 million into the Florida-based company, which claimed it had the technology to generate hydrogen gas from seawater to generate electricity on demand.

But it turned out the company hadn't perfected the technology on a large scale, putting the viability of the project in doubt.

NB Power does have to report some of the projects it funds to the Energy and Utilities board, but only if it exceeds a $50 million threshold.

Green Party leader David Coon said he doesn't think NB Power has enough oversight to avoid another Joi Scientific fiasco.

"What we've got to do is improve and strengthen the Electricity Act that guides NB Power and improve and strengthen the Energy Utility Support Act that guides the EUB," said Coon

Energy Minister Mike Holland said the $50 million threshold needs to be addressed to make the public utility more accountable, but warns that lowering it too far could have negative consequences.

Natural Resources and Energy Minister Mike Holland says he'd would like to see more oversight of NB Power, which has come under criticism for investing millions in an unproven technology. On the Political Panel this week, Holland, Liberal MLA Benoît Bourque, Green Party Leader and MLA David Coon and People's Alliance MLA Rick DeSaulniers debate a variety of issues related to NB Power. 35:19

"If we put them down to saying that they couldn't spend any more than $2 million without EUB approval, that would be a set of handcuffs that would make it very difficult," said Holland.

But Holland said he'd like borrow a private sector tactic to make NB Power more transparent, holding annual general meetings.

"So I'm trying to look at it, almost from like a private sector component, where the utility is accountable to the shareholder, with some form of a presentation similar to that."

Liberal MLA Benoit Bourque said there needs to be a higher degree of accountability and transparency, but even that won't completely erase the possibility of another Joi Scientific-style controversy.

"There's always an element of risk ...  there is never a 100 per cent guarantee when it comes to these things," said Bourque.

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