NB Power and the Spin Machine

Last Friday, Premier Lord talked to the Telegraph Journal editorial board about electricity rate increases. Now, normally I think the TJ has a better reporting style than the TT but on this one I had to laugh. Here’s a quote:

The premier, whose government rewrote the Electricity Act to reflect the belief that NB Power should be run more like a business, intends to hold to that principle as much as possible – even as he conceded he is being heavily lobbied by major industries, business groups and members of the public to keep rates down.

Now, under normal circumstances, a journalist that would bring a wider perspective to the issue would offer some at least minimal counterpoint to this comment. After all, Premier Lord personally decided to retrofit Lepreau against the recommendation of NB Power’s board of directors. Lord himself said that this retrofit would raise power rates by 6%. That doesn’t sound much like how you ‘run a business’. In addition, the Orimulsion scandal – which was a ridiculous effort by any measure – is another example of how not to ‘run a business’ (to spell it out don’t invest $700 million to upgrade a plant based on a non-binding MOU).

Based on what I read here, less than 50% of our electricity is produced using oil yet Lord and his faithful transcriber (Rob Linke) mention the high price of oil many times over as the ’cause’ of the 13% increase in electricity rates. Don’t you think a journalist would at least raise the issue of Lepreau and Orimulsion? If NB Power had actually negotiated a contract for Orimulsion at a fraction of the cost of heavy oil, wouldn’t that have shaved a little off the 13% increase.

Journalists owe it to New Brunswickers not to just repeat what they are told. They need to cast a somewhat skeptical eye at what they are told, confirm it independently and then report it.

The cost of electricity in New Brunswick is way too important to gloss over with transcriptions of government press releases or interviews with politicians. The CFIB suggests that 15,000 jobs could be lost with this rate increase. This is more than the entire number of private sector jobs created over the life of the Lord government.

Telling the public to suck it up and get used to it doesn’t explain why the rates are going up. A little humility may be in order. And for those of you that say the Orimulsion and Lepreau impacts won’t be felt until later – then tell us now what we can expect.