NB Telegraph-Journal | E-Brief
As published on page A1/A2 on July 29, 2005
Lepreau's future announced today
NB Power Board has likely recommended option without Bruce Power
BY CARL DAVIES
Tight-lipped Tory cabinet ministers had little to say Thursday as they gathered on the second floor of government headquarters for one final discussion about the fate of Point Lepreau.
A recommendation on refurbishing the nuclear plant received earlier this week from NB Power's board of directors was the main item on the agenda as Premier Bernard Lord sat down with his closest political allies for an afternoon-long cabinet meeting. No one going in or out of the cabinet room would say much about what New Brunswickers will learn via live Webcast this morning at 10 a.m.
The premier will join with Energy Minister Bruce Fitch, NB Power CEO David Hay, and Derek Burney, the chairman of NB Power's board of directors to announce whether the province will refurbish or decommission the 22-year-old nuclear plant at a morning news conference that will be broadcast on the internet.
NB Power's board had indicated earlier this year that refurbishment was too expensive.
The province then asked the federal government for $400 million to help with the cost of extending the life of the reactor by another 25 years.
After months of negotiations, the feds suddenly decided not to fund the project two weeks ago, saying Lepreau was solely a provincial responsibility.
Since Ottawa backed out of the deal, NB Power has been negotiating with prospective partners Bruce Power of Ontario, and AECL, a federal Crown corporation that designs and builds reactors, to see if either would sweeten their offers before the utility's board of directors made a final recommendation to cabinet.
When the board earlier said refurbishment was too expensive, it was looking at the cost of a deal that would see Bruce Power, a private company, take over the operation of Lepreau and pay for the refurbishment. Bruce would then recoup its costs by charging a certain price for electricity.
Sources say that the board has now warmed to a model that takes Bruce out of the equation and has NB Power and AECL partnering on the refurbishment.
That model is said to be cheaper but riskier than a venture that includes Bruce Power, who would provide more insurance for government if something goes wrong with a refurbishment that would be the first of its kind.
Three years ago, the Public Utilities Board recommended against a contract between AECL and NB Power to refurbish the plant. One of the main arguments against that contract was that there weren't enough performance guarantees from AECL.
It's believed talks in recent weeks with AECL have ! focused on improving those guarantees.
Percy Mockler would only wink and smile Thursday when asked about the outcome of the cabinet meeting.
"Yes, there is a decision," the Minister of Intergovernmental and International Relations said. "I fully support the decision."
Mr. Mockler said the decision would make some of his constituents happy, and some not so happy.
"That's democracy," he said.
Lepreau employs 700 workers, with those jobs generating $70 million in salaries annually.
It's estimated the plant creates another 1,100 indirect jobs for service providers and contractors, adding another $35 million in salaries to the area's economy. The reactor, scheduled to come to the end of its useful life in 2008, is located 35 kilometres southwest of Saint John.
Going into the cabinet meeting, Energy Minister Bruce Fitch called the two years leading up to today "interesting."
"There's pros and cons on both sides," he said. "Any decis! ion that involves risk and money is an important decision."
Several ministers declined comment, including Health Minister Elvy Robichaud and Margaret Ann Blaney, the Minister of Training and Employment Development.
NB Power's board met Tuesday of this week to make its final recommendation on Lepreau.
That recommendation was discussed at a Tory caucus meeting on Wednesday, and following that meeting some sources indicated the final decision would be announced as early as Thursday.
But the premier stuck with his original plan to make the announcement today.
Keith Ashfield, Minister of Natural Resources, said before Thursday's cabinet meeting that there were still some details to work out.
"There are lots of issues. We won't get into that," he said
NB Power employees who work at Point Lepreau are expected to tune into the government website on the internet to watch Mr. Lord make the announcement.
With files from Nina Chiarelli
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