Grading Graham’s energy platform

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Shawn and the energy department have a lot of work to do. Winning the election gives him a chance to mould our energy future in the way he believes is best. At the moment he only has a 50% chance of getting it right. His majority is slim and gives him little room for error. Although energy was a prime element in the campaign and perhaps the issue that won the election, it is not clear if he realizes how bad the situation is. I wasn’t a fan of Bernard Lord’s energy policy but Shawn’s has some weaknesses as well. Let’s take a closer look at our future with a Liberal government and give his ideas a rating.

Conservation of energy – home renovations grants

It’s a great idea to speed up the energy efficiency program. If I understand correctly, the Liberal $2000 grant for home energy renovations should be very popular, as it is not tied to a percentage of money invested. This is both the strength and weakness of the Liberal plan. Its generosity will ensure that a large number of people will take advantage of the plan. If properly designed, it will ensure that many good energy improvements take place but perhaps less investment per household. His goal of 30,000 homes per year will make the program large enough to make a difference, but the lack of contractors may slow the program in the short term. This is a huge program for Efficiency NB.

Grade: B

Renewable Energy

Mr. Graham would like to make New Brunswick a green power pioneer with wind, tidal and solar energy. Nothing to argue about here except that solar (photoelectric) is still very expensive.

Grade: A

Relationship with NB Power

Shawn will review the idea of a pipeline to the north with NB Power as the anchor. Natural gas is best burned in a home furnace at 90% efficiency, not in a power plant at 40%. Unless it’s a co-generation situation, the business case is weak. Time of use metering is a good idea to flatten peak demand. Perhaps the Orimulsion tactic was helpful in the election but do we really need an inquiry to understand why Hugo Chavez decided not to sell us heavy oil. Wouldn’t it be better to keep our eyes on the future? NB Power is like the movie “Snakes on a plane.” Once you get on board, you realize it’s going to be a wild ride. NB Power is going to need big rate increases to cover oil price increases, the Coleson Cove refit, wind power and the Lepreau refit. The sooner the increases come, the less long-term political pain there will be.

Most governments have used NB Power for economic development and political purposes until it’s in a terrible financial state and then let it twist in the wind. A smart Liberal government would find a good President and let it be managed with business sense. Any government directives to the corporation should be transparent to the public.

Grade: C

Nuclear Power

Mr. Graham seems to indicate that Lepreau 2 is on his agenda if the feasibility study comes in at the right price and the right partners (e.g. Nova Scotia). The idea to export power to the United States should be reviewed carefully. The last three annual reports indicate that power is being sold at cost of production across the border. Unless advantageous contracts for export power are signed in advance, it should not be the basis for generation investment.

Grade: B

Public Utility Board (PUB)

The Liberals will retain the previous energy board’s power and structure but expand the range of investigations into power generation contracts. OK. Will they also try to reduce the cost and length of hearings? The only people who are winning are the lawyers and consultants at hundreds of dollars an hour. Liberals suggest that rate increases would be phased in over three years. Given my calculations of a requirement for a 40% power rate increase over the next five years, rate increases will be in the double digits nearly every year.

Grade: C

Transportation fuel conservation

Mr. Graham’s government would provide a tax rebate of $1500 on the purchase of an energy efficient hybrid vehicle. This is a good starting point for discussion. While this idea has merit, does this mean that a GM Sierra hybrid half ton with city / highway ratings of 14 /11 Liters / 100 km would be eligible? What about the small diesel cars? Aren’t we trying to encourage high mileage ratings?

When he proposed a cut in the tax on gas, I was momentarily flabbergasted. Then I understood

A. The first casualty in an election is effective policy.

B. You make the promises that get you elected.

C. Elections are won on pocketbook issues.

D. Just ask Joe Clark about gas taxes.

Grade: B-

Oh I forgot about moving the energy department to Saint John. Well, maybe we should forget that idea. Harbour cleanup in a hurry would satisfy most of Saint John. For now, I would give the Liberal energy policy a B minus rating but I reserve the right to change that rating up or down as the world turns. I do like his aggressive approach to solutions. What is it they say about happiness? … Something about having hope for the future. Well, for the moment we have hope.

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