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Atlantic premiers ask New Brunswick for guarantees before finalizing power utility sale

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have renewed their battle with New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham over the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The premiers of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have renewed their battle with New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham over the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.

Darrell Dexter and Danny Williams have written a letter to Graham making two requests.

They want Graham to finalize an agreement prior to completing the NB Power sale that would see New Brunswick build a transmission line to the Maine border, separate from the power grid that currently exists.

They also want Graham to ensure that applications to transmit power through New Brunswick will be handled under existing rules until agreements are offered to Newfoundland's energy company or other Atlantic companies before the NB Power sale is complete.

Williams says he does not believe in Graham's past assertions that Newfoundland or other provinces don't need written guarantees to ship power through New Brunswick to the United States in the future.

"The previous statements made by the premier of New Brunswick are not sufficient to give us confidence that reliable open access will be available across New Brunswick to the Maine border after the deal with Quebec is consummated," Williams said in a joint statement with Dexter on Wednesday.

"This situation requires clear and explicit clarification and certainty."

Dexter said he and Williams were looking out for Atlantic Canada's future interests.

"We are seeking assurances that the best interests of Nova Scotia and the best opportunities for our region are protected," Dexter said.

But New Brunswick's energy minister said it's just a lot of political posturing.

"It's absolute smoke," Jack Keir said in an interview Wednesday night.

"The media got the letter before we received it, so I'm not sure if it was meant for us and had substance to it or whether they wanted the media to get it first," he said. "I'm a little disappointed in that."

Keir called the request for an agreement on a new transmission line by February "ridiculous."

"The transmission corridor that opened a year-and-a-half ago between Point Lepreau and Bangor, Maine, was many, many years in the making in terms of land acquisition and the EIA (environmental impact assessment) process. This isn't something that can happen in two months and they know that," he said.

Keir said someone will have to build new transmission capacity to the New England states in the future, but he said that could be government, the private sector or a utility.

The minister said as far as the open access transmission system request is concerned, nothing will be different after the utility sale from what occurs now.

He said if there's capacity available, then it goes out to the market for anyone to bid on it.

"Danny Williams knows very well how the open access transmission system works," said Keir. "In fact, it was five short months ago that he said 'we can go through New Brunswick whether they want us to or not.' "

Graham and Quebec Premier Jean Charest are aiming to finalize the proposed $4.8-billion deal by the end of March.

It would see Hydro-Quebec assume all the major assets of NB Power including transmission lines.

New Brunswick would also get $5 billion in rate relief over five years.

Keir said the New Brunswick government will respond to the letter from Williams and Dexter.

 
 
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