In the Public Utilities Board (PUB) hearing room in St. John’s, as the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro rate application review continued Wednesday, Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne made little headway in figuring out why N.L. Hydro’s forecasts were able to fix mitigated power rates at an average 18 cents per kilowatt hour after the Muskrat Falls hydro plant comes online in 2020.
The figure for mitigated power rates is based on an assumed injection of cash from the provincial government and Nalcor Energy. It’s something the premier and Natural Resources minister have mentioned in generalities, but exactly what will be done to bring rates to that level remains unclear.
“The rate mitigation is a public policy decision of government,” said Lisa Hutchens, vice-president of financial services, when asked by Browne about the figure of 18 cents per kWh used within a revamped rate proposal.
While most of the time was spent on clarifying numbers and better understanding internal finance decisions, Browne did ask about the rate mitigation plans.
“While there’s absolutely been conversations through rate mitigation committees … there’s been no sort of conclusion or direction provided to my knowledge in that regard,” Hutchens said.
N.L. Hydro’s latest filing notes the 18-cent figure is tied to news articles on the subject, where the premier and minister offered comment on rate mitigation, including an article from The Telegram.
Browne made it clear in his questioning he stands by his call to have a special reference to the PUB under the Electrical Power Control Act, to review power rates and the capability of the public to pay rates, and end with recommendations on the transition to a province with Muskrat Falls online.
Away from the hearing room, Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie issued a statement reiterating that call. He told The Telegram he and Browne are of the same opinion.
“The government needs to give up on its secrecy using back door committees and come out into the open, use an open and transparent process, which is democratically founded and calculated to get at the correct answer as to where rates should land,” Crosbie said.
He said there is a different feeling in the public around power rates right now.
“Now I think the public is waking up to the fact that this is just around the corner … and the government, while it makes reassuring statements, has not given the public any insight into what the heck it’s going to do to deal with high rates around the corner,” he said.
Crosbie said he sees the lawyers, interveners, expert witnesses and processes of the PUB offer the best way to arrive at the best possible rates for consumers.
He also sees it as a time to have the Progressive Conservatives stepping forward on the issue.
“Now is the time for us to demonstrate to the public that we are actually a government in waiting and thinking about the problems that are concerning the public. And foremost right now, coming to a crescendo, is a lot of worry about Muskrat Falls and its effect on rates and the affordability of them,” he said.
He was asked if the party would participate in the power rate protest planned for Friday in front of the Prince Charles Building. Crosbie said he would personally be out of town, but it is something to consider.