NB Power could hand over operational responsibility of the province’s only nuclear plant to Ontario Power Generation, according to premier Blaine Higgs.
An internal email sent to Ontario Power Generation (OPG) staff by president and CEO Ken Hartwick said the utilities are exploring a “business partnership.” When speaking to reporters Wednesday, Higgs confirmed that is the case and said the partnership could range from maintenance advice to OPG taking over operations at Point Lepreau.
“The fact that they have multiple generators and we only have one means they have a level of expertise there,” he said.
“We’ve gone through some of the ups and downs of Lepreau, especially the last few years,” he said.
Higgs also hopes that a partnership will lead to closer ties as both provinces pursue the development of small modular nuclear reactors and avoid “competing” with one another.
A spokesperson with NB Power said the two utilities have a long-standing relationship that they hope can lead to necessary improvements in operations.
“The status quo is not an option for NB Power. All possible options are being considered as we lay out a path for a very different future that will ensure we have affordable, safe and reliable electricity for our customers and improved financial health,” said Dominique Couture in an email.
“NB Power has successfully utilized partnership models in the past to help resolve long-standing issues and improve performance. This included sharing of key talent, operating experience and industry best practices.”
The OPG email was brought up in question period by Liberal energy critic Keith Chiasson, who told reporters that the utility needs to be upfront about what exactly is being pursued.
“I think for me, the reason I brought it up in the house today is just about transparency,” he said Wednesday.
“If there is negotiations going on with OPG, then I think we should know as stakeholders of NB Power.”
Reliability at the Point Lepreau generating station has been a source of consternation for the province for years. The plant was refurbished in 2008, a process that ran three years late and $1 billion over budget, but has repeatedly missed performance targets since coming back online in 2012. Unscheduled outages at the plant cost the utility up to $1 million per day, depending on the time of year, and have been a key reason for NB Power’s deteriorating finances and missed debt reduction targets.
Higgs admitted the performance has been disappointing but said that’s where the expertise of OPG comes in.
“Just as we’re tapping into Hydro Quebec for repairs and understanding of the … refurbishment of the dam, we look to a nuclear operator that’s much larger than us, has much more experience than us,” he said.
“NB Power has taken on the philosophy of, we can help each other.”
But Green Leader David Coon said he’s skeptical the involvement of another utility will help improve performance at Point Lepreau, arguing the plant’s reliability woes are due to the refurbishment not being thorough enough.
“After a number of years of spending an incredible amount of money to contract with the expert who is running Point Lepreau now, I would say, how would that be possible?” he said, referring to Brett Plummer, the utility’s nuclear head and one of the province’s highest-paid public employees.
“They’re constantly justifying the salary for the vice-president of nuclear at NB Power based on his expertise to run Point Lepreau well, so I don’t see why there would be actually any difference if OPG was involved.”
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