PEI opposition wants NB Power guarantees

CHARLOTTETOWN, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND - PEI's Conservative Opposition has asked New Brunswick to sign a deal guaranteeing access to transmission lines through the province if NB Power is sold to Hydro-Québec.

The premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia made a similar request in a joint letter earlier this month, saying they're concerned their provinces will be cut off from the lucrative energy markets in the northeastern United States.

But PEI Premier Robert Ghiz hasn't asked for any guarantees, said energy critic Mike Currie.

"His silence is certainly scary to a lot of Islanders, especially those people that have an investment in it, and the fact that he doesn't stand up, and show some leadership and stand up for Islanders here is worrisome, that's for sure," said Currie. So he put in the request himself.

A recent analysis by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies expresses concerns about the control the proposed deal would give Hydro-Québec over transmission lines to New England and New York, said Currie.

"Quebec will have a complete monopoly on the transmission corridor, and all they have to do is fill that capacity themselves and that eliminates everyone else," he said.

Currie worries if PEI loses access to New Brunswick transmission lines, it would end wind power development on the Island.

"What I'm asking is that that access is guaranteed in writing before this deal is done in a couple of months time."

But PEI Energy Minister Richard Brown said the Liberal government is trying to co-operate with New Brunswick and Hydro-Québec for access to transmission lines, and cheap hydro power.

"We don't have to write letters to Quebec because we're at the table with Quebec, trying to work out a deal with them," he said.

"They're pooling resources in Atlantic Canada in order to supply that big market in the United States. So if we work with Hydro-Québec and with New Brunswick, and if we work together, we have a better opportunity to access those markets than working separately," Brown said.

"We're very small utilities when it comes to working out a deal with the United States."

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter are pressing New Brunswick for a written transmission deal before the proposed sale of NB Power.

In a letter to Premier Shawn Graham that was recently made public, they said they want assurances that applications to transmit power through New Brunswick will be handled under existing rules and offered to other Atlantic companies before the NB Power sale is complete in March.

They also want the province to build a transmission line to the Maine border, separate from the power grid that currently exists.

Under the proposed NB Power deal, Hydro-Québec would pay $4.8 billion for the majority of NB Power's assets, a sum that would wipe out the utility's debt.

Additionally, Hydro-Québec would freeze residential rates for five years and cut large industrial rates by about 30 per cent to the level paid currently by Quebec companies. The New Brunswick government values the rate savings at $5 billion.



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