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Province could still pick up Maritime Electric's Fiona costs to avert rate hike: Myers

Maritime Electric estimates the Fiona cleanup costs amounted to $37 million of unplanned spending. Steven Myers says he wants to see IRAC sign off on that number before his department or the P.E.I. Energy Corporation gets involved in talks about helping out the utility.  (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)
Maritime Electric estimates the Fiona cleanup costs amounted to $37 million of unplanned spending. Steven Myers says he wants to see IRAC sign off on that number before his department or the P.E.I. Energy Corporation gets involved in talks about helping out the utility. (Shane Hennessey/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I.'s Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Action says the government has not ruled out the possibility of striking a deal with Maritime Electric to foot the bill for post-tropical storm Fiona cleanup — even though the utility has applied to charge its customers more in order to cover it.

The proposed 2.9 per cent rate hike to cover what Maritime Electric paid to repair damage from Fiona is currently before the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission, or IRAC. If approved, the additional payment amount would be in place for five years beginning this Friday.

"I will say we are concerned. There are three rate increases in front of IRAC this year," Energy Minister Steven Myers told the legislature on Wednesday.

The commission has already approved a separate rate increase of 2.5 per cent that also begins this Friday, March 1. As well, there is an Energy Cost Adjustment Mechanism or ECAM increase resulting from longer-than-anticipated outages at New Brunswick's Point Lepreau nuclear power station, from which the province buys energy.

Maritime Electric estimates the costs association with Fiona topped $37 million.

Myers said he wants IRAC to sign off on that number before they start to talk about options for government intervention to prevent consumers from even higher power bills than they are already facing.

"We're in every position to pay for 100 per cent of that at any time if we want, but I don't know [if] we would jump in front now and pay it or offer to lend them money on it until IRAC has first said, 'This is, in fact, the true cost,'" Myers told the legislature.

Myers says government has taken on these kinds of debts before and there's been  a number of conversations 'in house' about the Fiona cleanup situation.
Myers says government has taken on these kinds of debts before and there's been a number of conversations 'in house' about the Fiona cleanup situation.

Myers says government has taken on these kinds of debts before and there's been a number of conversations 'in house' about the Fiona cleanup situation. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

"It would give IRAC the impression that we're okay with that, and we want IRAC to go through the proper process and tell Islanders what the cleanup costs really are, and that's where we'll come in."

The question was first raised in the house by backbench PC MLA Brad Trivers.

"Because the minister has waited so long, Maritime Electric already has the application before IRAC… I think that he should consider intervening in these IRAC proceedings — as he's done before," Trivers said.

"Government could loan the money to Maritime Electric through the P.E.I. Energy Corp at significantly lower interest rates that government can get… There's a precedent."

PC MLA Brad Trivers was critical of Steven Myers' performance as energy minister in his questioning Wednesday. Trivers was previously a cabinet minister until he was shuffled out in 2022.
PC MLA Brad Trivers was critical of Steven Myers' performance as energy minister in his questioning Wednesday. Trivers was previously a cabinet minister until he was shuffled out in 2022.

PC MLA Brad Trivers was critical of Steven Myers' performance as energy minister in his questioning Wednesday. Trivers was previously a cabinet minister until he was shuffled out in 2022. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

Myers acknowledged Trivers' point that the province has taken on similar debts in the past. He told CBC News that options for covering Fiona costs could range from loans to Maritime Electric, to a rate rider, to paying the cleanup costs outright.

Backbench speaks out

Wednesday was the second day since the legislature resumed sitting, and also the second day that PC backbenchers asked questions critical of their own government. Tuesday's questions largely focused on the Prince County Hospital.

On Wednesday, Trivers also took several swings at his former cabinet colleague Myers in his line of questioning.

If the P.E.I. government doesn't come through with some kind of package for Maritime Electric to cover Fiona repair costs, homeowners and businesses will be paying more on their power bills for the next five years. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC News)

"We've had the same minister of energy since 2019. However, this minister has been unsuccessful so far on moving forward with any major on-Island power generation initiatives," Trivers said in one preamble.

"Minister, are you going to continue to do diddly-watt while flying around the world talking about climate change, or will you take action and save millions of dollars for Islanders?" he said in another question.

The latter caught the attention of Deputy Speaker Sidney MacEwen, who was in the chair in Speaker Darlene Compton's absence.

"There were a number of puns in here today, honourable members … No member shall use language or words offensive towards the house or any other member."