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Secrecy at heart of URB appeal

An independent power producer is asking the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal to overturn a provincial regulator’s decision on the South Canoe Wind Project.

Luciano Lisi, chief executive officer of Cape Breton Explorations Ltd., believes the Utility and Review Board made several errors when it allowed Nova Scotia Power Inc. to participate directly in the South Canoe project. Lisi has applied to the Appeal Court to overturn the decision.

Nineteen power projects were submitted last year to Nova Scotia’s independent renewable energy administrator, Power Advisory LLC of Carlisle, Mass. It chose three projects that would be awarded 20-year contracts to supply electricity.

All three winning projects had Nova Scotia Power as a minority partner.

The biggest was the $196-million South Canoe project. It is actually two Lunenburg County wind farms that were among the winning three. One is a 78-megawatt project the utility is building with Oxford Frozen Foods, and the other, which the power company is partnering on with Minas Basin Pulp and Power, is a 24-megawatt wind farm on neighbouring land.

On both projects, Nova Scotia Power has a 49 per cent stake.

The third winning proposal was the Sable Wind development, which the utility is building with the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.

The board followed up the administrator’s decision in April, approving Nova Scotia Power’s participation in the 34-turbine South Canoe project, which will be the province’s largest wind farm when completed at the end of 2014.

The board also allowed Nova Scotia Power to own 17 turbines directly.

Several independent power producers, including Lisi and his partners, argued before the board that the utility and its partners had an unfair advantage, but the board rejected those arguments.

Cape Breton Explorations and BluEarth Renewables Inc. of Calgary had bid to build a 50-megawatt Cape Breton wind farm called East Bay Hills.

Some Lunenburg County residents fear South Canoe will adversely affect them. They have since appealed directly to the board to overturn its earlier approval. That decision has not been handed down.

It is not related to Cape Breton Explorations’ application to the Appeal Court.

In its court application, Cape Breton Explorations contends that the board did not have the authority to require ratepayers to pay for and guarantee the profits of Nova Scotia Power’s minority investment in South Canoe. A third party would control and operate it.

Cape Breton Explorations will argue that because Nova Scotia Power was allowed to pass along its South Canoe costs to ratepayers, it had an advantage that competing bidders did not have.

It further contends in its appeal that the board should not have allowed the utility to directly own 17 turbines.

However, Lisi anticipates the biggest fight will be over the issue of confidentiality.

Lawyers for Cape Breton Explorations will argue that the board allowed Nova Scotia Power to hide too much from public scrutiny. Much of the documentation made available to the public at the board hearing, especially parts related to the business case for South Canoe, was heavily redacted.

“We intervened in the URB (hearing on South Canoe), but we couldn’t read the documents,” Lisi said in a phone call Thursday

“I just couldn’t believe it was like the Middle Ages or something.”

Cape Breton Explorations is now asking the court to make public all aspects of the project, especially the sections that support Nova Scotia Power’s request to have ratepayers back its investment.

There are already signs the utility is focusing its legal weight on the secrecy issue, Lisi says. The case is slated for a hearing next week.