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Turbine company’s plans worry opposition

A wind turbine company that is almost half-owned by provincial taxpayers shouldn’t be competing with existing Nova Scotia businesses for pieces of the oil, gas and shipbuilding pies, the opposition said Tuesday.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil and Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said it would be unfair for DSME Trenton, 49-per cent owned by the province, to diversify into products current businesses make.

The Liberals provided a company newsletter from April that said DSME Trenton was working on certification to build boilers and was looking at producing “pressure vessels, tanks, skid modules and a few other things for the oil and gas industry.”

McNeil said he thinks that could lead to the loss of private-sector jobs in the local area.

“This is in direct competition, using tax dollars to compete against Nova Scotia companies,” he said at Province House.

In March 2010, Premier Darrell Dexter announced taxpayers would put almost $60 million into a deal with Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering to start producing wind turbines in the shuttered railcar plant.

At the time, Dexter said 120 jobs were expected to be created in the first year and, eventually, close to 500. There were about 70 people working there as of a month ago.

Baillie said the company’s diversification plan puts Economic Development Minister Percy Paris in a conflict.

“He is there as a part shareholder of the company, but he also has a duty to protect all the other businesses in Nova Scotia as a minister of the government, and to make sure that they can compete freely without subsidized opponents,” he said.

Paris said he’s briefed almost daily about what’s happening at the company, but Tuesday was the first he’d heard that it was looking at making boilers.

The minister said he encourages DSME Trenton to diversify as much as possible.

Paris also said the province has invested in a lot of different companies to create good jobs.

“I don’t see how the fact that we’ve invested in a company, I don’t see where that gives them an advantage over other companies,” Paris said. “They’ve got every right as taxpayers, as a business, to compete.”

Baillie said the minister was wrong to suggest that DSME Trenton should try to make gains on Irving’s federal shipbuilding project, considering there are many existing suppliers “not looking for government help to compete.”

Those business now “have a government-funded and a government-owned business on their doorsteps competing for the work,” he said.

Barbara Pike, executive director of Maritimes Energy Association, which represents businesses supplying the energy sector, said she’d have to wait and see how the Trenton company’s diversification plan plays out.

“Does that mean that they’re going to be able to undersell everyone because government is giving them money to supplement it?” she said. “I don’t think that that’s actually going to be the case.”

She said didn’t like to speculate but the bottom line is that companies should be competing on a level playing field.

A DSME Trenton official wasn’t able to provide a comment Tuesday.

The province’s investment included $19.6 million for its 49-per cent share in the company, $3.7 million to buy the TrentonWorks facility, $6 million for working capital and $30 million to buy equipment.

The company has drawn $23.6 million of the $30-million allotment, according to the province. That loan is repayable.