New Brunswick

'It will take the time that it takes': NB Power rate hearing way behind schedule

The EUB hearing's primary purpose is to consider NB Power's annual request for a two per cent rate increase but has not yet touched on that topic.

Deep dives into smart meters, efficiency programs prolong what was a 12-day proceeding

NB Power's annual rate hearing is taking longer than the expected 12 days. (CBC)

NB Power's 12-day rate hearing in front of the Energy and Utilities Board was scheduled to wrap up later this week, but it has fallen so far behind schedule it may be forced carry on until springtime, or beyond.

"The board would like to have the parties provide their availability and their limitations for the month of March and April," said EUB vice-chairman Francois Beaulieu as the hearing entered day nine Tuesday morning with no hope at all of finishing Friday as originally planned.

"We're looking for eight (more) days," he said.

The hearing's primary purpose is to consider NB Power's annual request for a two per cent rate increase but has not yet touched on that topic. Instead, it's slogging through a lengthy consideration of the utility's plan to buy and install 350,000 smart meters and its handling of energy efficiency programs.

EUB vice-Chairman Francois Beaulieu, centre, is allowing everyone to have their say at NB Power's slow moving rate hearing. (Robert Jones/CBC NEWS)

Those two matters were supposed to have been put to rest by the end of last week but continue to be probed in detail by multiple parties registered to participate at the hearings.

'It will take the time that it takes'

The EUB has long tolerated — even encouraged — non-expert participation in its hearings by individual concerned citizens, and although that can slow proceedings considerably, Beaulieu has made it clear everyone who registered to participate will be heard in full.

"It will take the time that it takes," said Beaulieu on day three of the hearing when NB Power lawyer John Furey first raised concerns matters were falling behind schedule.

Several self-represented participants have been taking turns questioning NB Power's plans on an equal footing with lawyers hired by companies, like J.D. Irving Ltd. and Enbridge Gas New Brunswick, and municipal utilities like Saint John Energy.   

Gently guided on proper procedure by Beaulieu, non-professional participants have had free rein to have a say. 

Anti-smart meter activist and St. Louis de Kent dentist Roger Richard, left, and environmentalist Daniel LeBlanc spent hours questioning NB Power witnesses. (Robert Jones/CBC NEWS)

Those participants include environmentalist Chris Rouse, anti-smart meter activist and St. Louis de Kent dentist Roger Richard and political hopeful Gerald Bourque, the leader of the fledgling KISS N.B. Political Party.

They've been able to submit evidence, call witnesses and cross-examine NB Power executives and others and make motions.

NB Power deadline in jeopardy

On day five, Beaulieu told environmentalist Daniel LeBlanc, who is working with Richard, to take as long as he needed to get full answers to questions from NB Power witnesses.

"If you feel that your questions are not answered — you have the floor, so it's your right to ask your question again if you feel the panel members are not responding to your questions," he said.

"Thank you," said LeBlanc, who went on to ask questions for three and a half hours.

Chris Rouse uses vacation days from his regular job to participate in NB Power rate hearings. (Robert Jones/CBC NEWS)

On Friday, Rouse, who uses vacation days from his regular job to attend NB Power hearings, unsuccessfully attempted to have himself declared an expert witness at the hearing so he could give his own opinion on evidence he had previously filed.

Beaulieu gave the issue a full hour before denying the request, even with the hearing days behind schedule. 

Rouse was appreciative of his treatment.

"I am happy with everything. Thank you very much," he said to Beaulieu at the end of the afternoon session

The current hearing is nowhere near the 58-day marathon held to establish NB Power's rates back in 2006, but its slow pace is creating problems.

NB Power had been hoping to win approval for a rate increase before the start of its fiscal year on April 1, but with the hearing dragging, it may have to apply for an interim increase to meet that deadline, especially if eight more sitting days cannot be arranged quickly.

The EUB is expected to announce further hearing dates Wednesday morning.


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