New Brunswick ends funding for JOI Scientific

NB Power faced tough questions by a legislature committee on its investment in a start up company. Kevin Godwin/Global News

NB Power has now ended its ongoing financial contributions to JOI Scientific, according to New Brunswick’s energy minister.

“NB Power is wrapping up everything there, there will be no more contributions financially whether it be through NB Power operationally or certainly us as the government going forward,” Minister Mike Holland said Tuesday.

READ MORE: NB Power CEO grilled over investment in startup company

The Florida-based energy startup claims to be able to isolate hydrogen gas from seawater, which can then be burned to create clean energy. Doubts surrounding the efficacy of the technology reached a crescendo at a November meeting of the standing committee on crown corporations.

During that meeting, NB Power CEO Gaetan Thomas was grilled by MLAs and revealed that on top of the $13 million invested in the company by the utility and through the Regional Development Corporation, NB Power was continuing to lease a lab space for the company that cost about $20,000 a month.

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Holland imposed a Dec. 31 deadline for the company to show that its tech worked and if it was unable to, all ongoing funding would be pulled.

“My direction to NB Power was that I have no desire to have anymore financial obligation or input into that until such a time as viable results are produced,” Holland said.

According to Holland the company is continuing to conduct tests which have taken longer than expected, but he stuck to the end of year deadline previously set out.

Being that both the New Brunswick government and NB Power are investors in the company and have a seat on the board, Holland did not rule out the possibility of future contributions should the energy technology prove to be viable in the future.

“Now of course we’ve made an investment in them in the past and as a result we’re still in communication with them,” he said.

“In the event that scientist does come through the door and says eureka, we’re going to be paying attention to that, we’re going to be paying attention to what takes place.”

Click to play video 'CEO of NB Power grilled by committee over its multi-million dollar investment into startup company' CEO of NB Power grilled by committee over its multi-million dollar investment into startup company
CEO of NB Power grilled by committee over its multi-million dollar investment into startup company – Nov 1, 2019

When asked about his thoughts on the initial investment in the company, Holland said he doesn’t want to pile on the previous government that made the decision. He says evaluating that decision now is impossible because he wasn’t around the cabinet table when it was made.

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Holland did say that investments with taxpayer money always carry an extra element of risk.

“When you’re dealing with any form of investment there is risk. The key is that it’s calculated and mitigated and there’s also another factor there which is I’m not dealing with my money. I’m dealing with the money of the rate payer and the tax payer of New Brunswick,” he said.

“I believe that we should be open for looking at opportunities for investment, but we have to be couching them with a level of due diligence that’s significant.”

READ MORE: NB Power says rate application doesn’t include federal carbon tax

During the November committee meeting Thomas defended the investment and said the crown corporation’s only wrong was that it failed to manage expectations.

“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.”

Both NB Power and JOI Scientific did not return requests for comment.