Gaetan Thomas, the CEO of NB Power, was grilled by a committee of the New Brunswick legislature on Friday over its multi-million-dollar investment into a startup company.
Among other things, the Standing Committee on Crown Corporations was questioning NB Power executives on the utility’s investment in JOI Scientific Technology.
The Florida startup company received about $13 million from NB Power and the provincial Regional Development Corporation approved under the previous government. The aim behind the investment was a project that would convert sea water into hydrogen gas.
Results on the scale up of the project aren’t going as initially planned, according to NB Power.
Committee member David Coon went so far as to suggest they had bought a “pig in a poke.”
“NB Power should never have gone down that road and I still don’t know why they did,” said the leader of the provincial Green Party.
Thomas defended the decision to invest in the new innovation.
“If we did anything wrong, (it’s) some expectations were created that we could go into commercialization in about 18 months,” he said. “As you all know, it took longer.”
In the meantime, NB Power continues to lease a lab in Florida at a cost of $20,000 per month. That came as a surprise to at least one member of the committee.
“I’m not aware of that and I don’t think the Minister (Mike) Holland is aware of that either because he specifically said yesterday there would be no more resources.”
A pair of motions were approved by the committee. One was to urge NB Power to release the technology audit into the hydrogen 2.0 technology. “I’m willing to give as much information as possible under confidentiality because I can’t break the confidentiality of these terms and conditions,” Thomas explained
The Crown corporation is expected to decide how to proceed with the start up company over the next couple of months.