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Government accused of pressuring NB Power to sidestep tender process  

NB Power’s president denies the Liberal government pressured him to short-circuit the public tendering process by awarding a $1.4-billion wind-power project that had already been turned down by the utility.

On a day when NB Power and the Liberal government were announcing a new 49.5-megawatt wind-power project for Lameque, David Hay and Premier Shawn Graham were sideswiped by court documents.

They were filed by Toronto-based SkyPower Corp. and Miramichi-based Atcon Construction with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John.

The firms are claiming they had been told by officials that the Liberal government supported their plan and its potential creation of 200 jobs in an economically depressed region of the province and would instruct NB Power to award the 20-year, $1.4-billion contract without a public competition.

There is a further allegation that Norm Betts, the former Conservative finance minister and a NB Power director, blocked the deal and leaked confidential information to a competing firm on which he served as a director.

Betts declined an interview, but he denied the allegations in his own court documents.

Hay, the utility’s president and chief executive officer, said in an interview Tuesday that he met with senior officials over the proposed wind project. But he dismissed any interpretation that the Liberals foisted pressure on him to bend the rules.

“The main thing people need to know is that in the normal course of business there are always discussions going on between the shareholder, the government and NB Power,” Hay said in an interview.

The utility’s statement of defence claims the wind-power company has attempted “directly and indirectly to unduly and unfairly interfere and influence the bidding process.” There are no court dates booked and the comments in all of the affidavits haven’t been proven in court.

The affidavit Hay filed in response to the lawsuit confirms he had a meeting with Graham, Bernard Theriault, the premier’s chief of staff, Energy Minister Jack Keir and Claire LePage, deputy minister of energy, around Jan. 16, 2007.

“At this meeting, I was made aware that discussions had taken place between the government, Atcon and SkyPower Corp. and the government was hopeful that additional megawatts of electricity could be developed and the government was in favour of a (power purchase agreement) being concluded with SkyPower Corp. and or Atcon,” Hay states.

“It was suggested to me at this meeting that (NB Power) could consider the purchase of additional wind energy without embarking on a public tendering process, to which suggestion I responded that such a decision would require (NB Power) board approval.”

The NB Power board of directors unanimously voted at its Feb. 7, 2007, meeting that any wind-power investments would be carried out through an open tendering process.

The utility announced May 17, 2007, that its next round of wind projects would also consider local economic development in the tendering process.

The premier refused to answer whether he put pressure on Hay to circumvent the proper bidding process because that issue is before the court. However, Graham said every megawatt that will be announced by the Liberal government will have passed through a tendering process.

“Our actions today speak for themselves; 300 megawatts of wind power that we’re announcing over the next few weeks were publicly tendered,” Graham said.

In early November, Hay said he had a conference call with Theriault, Eloi Duguay, the former deputy minister of Business New Brunswick, and Doug Tyler, the former head of Graham’s transition team.

During that time, Hay said public officials were concerned by the lack of New Brunswick manufacturing content in the wind-energy proposal being awarded by NB Power.

Tyler appears again in the court documents when he surfaces as a lobbyist for Atcon. Tyler said in an interview that at the time of the first meeting he had no ties to the Miramichi-based company.

“I went to work for Atcon some time mid to late January 2007,” Tyler said.

SkyPower’s other contention is that Betts sat as a director on a competing wind corporation’s board and leaked confidential information.

Mark Ledwell, the vice-president of operations and general counsel for the Atcon Group of Companies, stated in his court documents that “government communicated a willingness to cause or direct NB Power to enter into an agreement” for 200 megawatts of wind power as long as a tower manufacturing plant employing 200 people was established and the wind-power costs would match those of two other developers.

That verbal agreement disintegrated when the NB Power board met in February, a result the complainants blame on Betts.

By Daniel McHardie
Canadaeast News Service

The Daily Gleaner

23 January 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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