New Brunswick

Despite not knowing proposed rate increase, EUB pushes on with hearing

Ongoing secrecy around what insurance companies will pay NB Power for claims arising from the Point Lepreau nuclear plant refurbishment — and the effect that will have on power rates — threw the schedule of its ongoing marathon rate hearing into more turmoil Tuesday.

EUB decides against delay after flap over secrecy of utility's settlement with insurers

NB Power doesn't know the new rate increase it needs to apply for as a result of a settlement with insurance companies over the refurbishment of Point Lepreau. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Ongoing secrecy around what insurance companies will pay NB Power for claims arising from the Point Lepreau nuclear plant refurbishment — and the effect that will have on power rates — threw the schedule of its ongoing marathon rate hearing into more turmoil Tuesday.

The hearing is already four weeks behind schedule following a number of delays and unexpected developments and participants were divided on whether proceedings should be suspended again until more is known about the Lepreau deal.

"It does seem like things are taking a fairly hard right turn here," said J.D. Irving Ltd. lawyer Christopher Stewart during a submission in favour of halting the hearing until next week when NB Power will unveil a new rate increase request based on its insurance windfall. 

"Let's see that evidence and let's move on from there. We don't know what we don't know." 

J.D. Irving Ltd. lawyer Christopher Stewart argued the EUB hearing should be halted while NB Power calculates its new rate increase. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Keep details secret

NB Power announced on Monday it successfully ended a six-year legal fight with various insurance companies over their refusal to pay damage claims it made under policies taken out to cover the Lepreau refurbishment.   

The claims were for more than $300 million but the utility has not said how much of that will be paid. It argues the information should not be released because it would damage attempts to pursue further compensation from its contractor at Lepreau, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

"Both NB Power and the insurers have a substantial commercial interest in maintaining confidentiality with respect to the settlement agreement to the fullest extent possible for as long as possible," the utility claimed Monday in explaining to the EUB why it wanted to keep the settlement details secret.

NB Power has said the settlement is large enough to reduce the need for the full two per cent rate increase it applied for this year but it has been given until next Wednesday to calculate what that new rate increase will be.

NB Power lawyer John Furey argued the EUB hearings could continue to deal with other matters while the new proposed rate is calculated. (Philip Drost/CBC)

Stewart and EUB lawyer Ellen Desmond argued Tuesday there was a fundamental problem in continuing with a rate increase hearing when the proposed rate increase is a mystery, but the hearing is so far behind schedule other participants argued to keep moving anyway.

More stuff to cover

NB Power lawyer John Furey said there are a number of issues to be covered unrelated to rates and the board should push forward on those.

EUB lawyer Ellen Desmond argued there was a fundamental problem in continuing with the rate hearing while the rate remained a mystery. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"We have work that can be done and so NB Power's view is that we should press on in the areas we can," said Furey.

Others, like public intervener Heather Black, agreed further delays would be worse than waiting for more information on the financial implications of the settlement.

"It's very difficult to know in the absence of seeing the evidence to know what the best approach is so in the absence of knowing I think we should continue on," Black said. 

Black and Stewart also gave notice they would be objecting to NB Power's blanket request to keep details of the Lepreau settlement secret, an issue that will be heard within the next two weeks.

EUB Board vice-chairman Francois Beaulieu, seated with board member Patrick Ervin, said the hearing will continue and concentrate on issues not directly connected to power rates. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Board vice-chair Francois Beaulieu ruled the rate hearing itself would continue in the meantime and concentrate on issues not directly connected to power rates.

The hearing, which has covered smart meters, energy efficiency programs, storm damage surcharges and the rate increase began Feb. 7 and was originally scheduled to conclude Feb. 23. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robert Jones

Reporter

Robert Jones has been a reporter and producer with CBC New Brunswick since 1990. His investigative reports on petroleum pricing in New Brunswick won several regional and national awards and led to the adoption of price regulation in 2006.

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