JD Irving Ltd. and NB Power clash as interest rate hearings begin
A scheduled nine-day hearing on NB Power’s request for an 8.9 percent rate hike has begun before the Energy and Utilities Board, and an intense early grill from an attorney representing one of its biggest clients suggests it’s long two could take weeks.
Nancy Rubin, solicitor for JD Irving Ltd, criticized the utility’s pay and performance and suggested that NB Power’s acting president, Lori Clark, made rehearsed statements rather than answering questions – all in the opening minutes of the hearing.
“Ms. Clark, can you listen to my questions,” Rubin replied after an answer she found unsatisfactory.
“I know you have information to share, but…”
Rubin also feuded with NB Power’s attorney, John Furey, over whether Crown Corporation properly complied with the ESA’s Competing Duty Balancing Guidelines published in previous decisions to remain financially viable but keep prices low for customers and to keep stable.
Furey said Rubin’s question was disingenuous.
“She can read them herself,” Furey said of the ESA decisions touching on the issue.
“I suppose she already has. She probably knows the answer to the question. I disagree with asking me to do this research for JDI. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
EUB Chair Francois Beaulieu sided with Furey, but Rubin made it clear that JD Irving is not happy with the proposed rate hike and will vigorously fight it.
The utility also faces questions from lawyers representing other industries, competitors, public utilities, the public and the ESA itself.
It is NB Power’s first appearance at an interest rate hearing in three years, and the utility claims its financial situation has deteriorated.
Pandemics, supply chain issues, runaway inflation, and performance issues at power plants, particularly at the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant, have hit the utility in different ways.
With interest rates rising just 3.8 percent in three years during these troubles, Clark told the hearing that NB Power needed an infusion of new money.
“As much as we oppose rate increases for our customers, we also have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure we cover our costs as a utility,” said Clark, who is the first president to appear more than in person at a rate hearing since David Hay a decade.
A total of seven NB Power witness panels are scheduled to testify during the hearing on all aspects of the company’s operations. Additional experts hired by the Energy and Utilities Board and the Public Intervener will also testify.