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Questions continue at NB Power rate hearing, where officials reveal Mactaquac Dam cost could balloon to $7B

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More questions for NB Power executives Tuesday at a rate hearing that could see an almost 20 per cent increase on residential power bills over two years, if approved.

The power utility is over $5-billion in debt, and it has a deadline of 2029 to reach an 80/20 debt-equity target.

Public intervener Alain Chiasson questioned NB Power on whether the utility is confident these high rate increases are absolutely necessary, and if they acknowledge the challenge it could have on ratepayers.

Darren Murphy, NB Power’s chief financial officer, said delaying these increases would only put more pressure on ratepayers in the end – because of that looming deadline to reach their equity target, and several costly projects on the horizon.

One of those: the refurbishment of the Mactaquac hydroelectric dam, which provides about 12 per cent of the province’s energy needs.

The last cost estimate for that refurbishment was in 2016. At that time, it was between $2.7 and $3.6-billion.

When pressured to give a new cost estimate during Monday’s hearings, Murphy said it would be “somewhere around 1.5 to two times” the 2016 estimate, in 2023 dollars.

That could mean a cost between $4 and $7-billion.

However, an official cost estimate is taking time to complete – one of the reasons they’re behind on their original project schedule by about 12 to 18 months.

“We would have anticipated to be in an approval stage prior to now. Unfortunately, the planning stage has taken longer than we would have anticipated, particularly with the transition to a new owners engineer and the requirement for more work in that transition than we would have expected,” Murphy said.

He also said they do not want to rush the planning of such a project to avoid “problems on the execution side.”

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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