Thomas talks on NB Power's future2/13/2013
MIRAMICHI — The chief executive officer of NB Power said the wheels are already in motion to bring New Brunswickers the best bang for their buck on their power bills and a forward-thinking-environmental approach to energy.
Gaëtan Thomas, chief executive and president of NB Power, was the guest speaker at the Miramichi Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting on Monday at the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel.
Thomas became president and CEO of NB Power in January 2010. Prior to that, he served as vice-president of nuclear. He has close to 30 years with NB Power, including generation, transmission, distribution and customer service sections. Thomas said NB Power’s new mandate is to look at the company like a business and their goal, under the direction of their independent board of directors, is to compare themselves to other utilities in North America.
“Our goal after this review it to make sure that in all areas we are going to be in the top 25 per cent,” said Thomas.
Already, Thomas said, they’re doing really well in some areas like safety and reliability.
“But one of the areas that we had some concern was a rising cost of electricity,” he said. “Our product, called kilowatt-hours, had gone up by about 40 per cent over the last five years.”
That’s before Thomas came on as CEO, and he said that’s a major concern and current priority. Many industries indicated that was one of the major reasons why they had to leave NB Power. They lost 300 megawatts from the northern part of N.B., which made the 40 per cent even worse, said Thomas.
“We had the generation for more megawatts, but we were losing 300 megawatts, mostly from the forestry industry,” he said. “So, we really have to focus on how we can get our kilowatt cost back in line.”
The second goal for NB Power is to reduce debt. This is something all too familiar to New Brunswickers, especially in recent years.
“That really created a burning platform for us, especially when the Hydro-Quebec sale came into the picture,” said Thomas. “This is when we really started thinking about this.”
NB Power’s debt is currently around $5 billion. Their goal is to reduce the debt by $1 billion over the next 10 years.
“In order to do that, we have to maintain some cash flow ... and we’ve been able to demonstrate 10 consecutive profitable quarters, which means we’re now in a position to reduce our debt.”
Now that the Point Lepreau is back in operation, NB Power is committed to lowering its debt.
“Lepreau is very key to the success in our future,” Thomas said. “Lepreau is a good investment for us for long term.”
The third strategy NB Power is looking at is working with the public to reduce and shift demand. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. are what NB Power identifies as the two peak times for power demand.
“The difference in those hours, on the coldest day of winter, Jan. 24 was 700 megawatts,” said Thomas. “That’s the size of Point Lepreau. That means, I have to keep 700 megawatts of generation on our system, (for about) 10 to 15 days per year, twice a day.”
Thomas said that is very expensive to do. The goal here would be to shave those peaks down and he said there are many ways to do that – some of which NB Power has already started working on.
“What we’re talking about here is building a negative-power plan ... an intelligent load-management system,” he said.
The first thing NB Power did was move towards LED streetlights.
“New Brunswick will be the first province to go all LED within five years,” said Thomas. “We signed a contract with LED Roadway Lighting, an Amherst company who will replace all the lights within five years.”
Thomas said this will save 30 to 40 per cent of energy consumption on street lights.
“Street lights come on at about 5 p.m., maybe earlier, so they are adding to the peak, so (switching to LED) is going to help us with the second peak of the day.”
One commendable thing that’s happened recently in New Brunswick is having Siemens choose New Brunswick as a place to set up shop.
“We worked hard to get Siemens,” Thomas said. “Siemens is a company that owns a lot of assets, a lot of employees around the word, over 400,000 employees. They have more employees than we have customers,” said Thomas. “They chose New Brunswick because we have a solid system (where) we are connected to Nova Scotia, Quebec, New England, (Prince Edward Island).”
In July, Siemens Canada and NB Power struck an agreement to bring the global technology company in to create a 10-year energy road map for the province.
“What we have in New Brunswick is passion, the kind of passion you heard from our mayor in Miramichi – I’m saying our mayor as if I’ve already moved here,” Thomas said with a laugh, referring to Mayor Gerry Cormier’s notorious passion for the city of Miramichi.
Thomas, a self-proclaimed environmentalist at heart, said looking forward, NB Power is investing in the long term.
“In spite of the changes that are occurring all over the province, they are occurring to make us more efficient, more reliable, and we want you, our customers to benefit with the lowest rates in eastern Canada,” he said.
Thomas said, in his view, this is innovation at its best, it’s happening because New Brunswickers are forward thinking. N.B. had the first high-voltage-direct-current station at Eel River and was the first inter-connected utility in North America for its size.
“So we have all these things that work for us and these interconnections have benefitted our customers with better rates by about 10 to 15 per cent lower over the years,” he said.
Thomas said NB Power is a company that has taken the leadership to be a top-class utility in North America.
“At the end of the day, this utility is yours,” he said. “We work for you, and I want to leave here knowing that you will you be served as first class customers.”