New Brunswick

Opposition demands inquiry into wind-energy contract

New Brunswick's Opposition is demanding that a full public inquiry be conducted into allegations the government tried to influence NB Power's awarding of wind-energy contracts.

New Brunswick's Opposition is demanding that a full public inquiry be conducted into allegations the government tried to influence NB Power's awarding of wind-energy contracts.

An affidavit filed by NB Power's president and CEO David Hay states that government officials asked him in 2007 to sign a $1.4 billion, 20-year deal with a wind-energy company without putting it up for public tender.

NB Power isn't allowed to skip the request for proposals in the tendering process, Conservative Leader Jeannot Volpé said on Wednesday.

"It's like saying do something illegal. It's in the act. It was put in the last Electricity Act that was put in place. It says any new production should go to an RFP [request for proposals]," he said.

Conservative energy critic Bruce Northrup said the public needs to know the facts around what happened and whether the Liberal government is interfering with the management of NB Power.

"A public inquiry, where it be a judge or a public panel, would get to the bottom line and get the facts out," Northrup said. "We're hearing facts and you people are hearing facts, too. But we want, at the end of the day, to see them on paper. We want to know the gist of the whole thing."

NB Power contract process independent: minister

But Energy Minister Jack Keir maintains that the government does not involve itself in how NB Power awards contracts.

Keir said the government plays no role in the way NB Power issues requests for proposals or awards contracts to companies that want to sell wind energy.

"Not any, as a matter of fact," Keir told CBC News. "NB Power on their own have gone to that RFP process. It's NB Power that went through the RFP process and we're very happy with the result."

The government does, however, discuss government priorities on occasion with Hay, Keir said. He said the government and the utility are in agreement in most instances.

"When we're not, we talk about it," the minister said. "We discuss where we have to go and what we have to do, what the roadblocks are, and we try to get over those roadblocks. If we can't get over those roadblocks, we don't do it."

Concerns SkyPower proposal

Hay's affidavit was filed in a lawsuit between Toronto-based SkyPower Corp. and NB Power.

In the affidavit, Hay says he was called to a meeting in January 2007 with Keir, Liberal Premier Shawn Graham and other officials where he was urged to sign the contract with SkyPower.

"It was suggested to me at this meeting that NBP [NB Power] could consider the purchase of additional wind energy without embarking on a public tendering process," Hay says in the affidavit.

SkyPower was promising to create 200 jobs in the province if it got the contract by establishing a windmill manufacturing plant in Miramichi.

Hay says in the affidavit he felt SkyPower was trying to get around the tendering process by presenting the prospect of job creation, which appealed to the government.

In the affidavit, Hay says he took the government's request back to NB Power's board of directors, but SkyPower's proposal was rejected.

'There's no issue': Hay

"We're in discussions all the time with the government and we work extremely well together," Hay told the CBC on Tuesday when he was contacted regarding the statements in his affidavit.

"In this case, the government was proposing an opportunity to create jobs, was exploring the opportunity to create jobs in the Miramichi through a wind-power project. We had discussions about it. We went back. We discussed it internally and we discussed that it was not possible to do it in the manner that we were talking about.

"We responded to the government and they said fine and we've gone on with our business. There's no issue beyond that."

Keir said he is satisfied with the tendering process and the approach taken by NB Power and Hay.

Conflict of interest alleged

SkyPower, however, is not satisfied, and is asking a judge to block NB Power from awarding a new wind-energy contract and order the utility to restart the process.

SkyPower alleges a NB Power board member, former Conservative cabinet minister Norm Betts, sabotaged its initial 2006 proposal.

In court documents, SkyPower alleges Betts was in a conflict of interest because he was the director of competing wind-energy company Ventus Energy Inc.

According to the documents, SkyPower believes that — despite a new tender being issued in May 2007 with a provincial job creation requirement — Ventus will win the bid.

Betts says in his affidavit that he did not take part in any wind-energy discussions at NB Power.

No court date has been set yet and nothing in the court documents has been proven in court.