07/25/2012 12:03 EDT | Updated 09/24/2012 05:12 EDT

NB Power signs 10-year deal with Siemens in bid to improve energy efficiency

FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's Crown-owned power utility has signed a deal with Siemens Canada to develop ways to reduce energy consumption in the province.

The 10-year deal announced by NB Power Wednesday will see Siemens open two offices in Fredericton, creating about 40 jobs.

NB Power says the company will use technology to monitor times peak demand for electricity, and attempt to have renewable sources — such as wind and hydro — available as a first option.

Jan Mrosik, chief executive officer of Siemens Smart Grid, said the technology will be specific for New Brunswick, but could include such things as display panels in homes to allow customers to monitor their energy use.

"Customers can then get the consumption data and compare it for example with the consumption that their neighbours have," Mrosik said. "This triggers kind of a sports spirit to reduce energy consumption."

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said providing consumers with more information allows them to be part of the process to control peak demand for power.

Customers will be encouraged to use technology such as programmable thermostats as a way to reduce power consumption.

Gaetan Thomas, the utility's president, said the deal will cost NB Power a few million dollars each year.

"It is on a per project cost, so it will be in the tens of millions of dollars but there's no specific number at this stage because this will evolve as part of the smart grid program," Thomas said.

Premier David Alward said by reducing power use, the utility will be able to keep rates stable for years.

"By acting together to use less power and shift our actual usage to some off-peak hours, we'll save hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run and this means that NB Power will have to spend much less in generation," Alward said.

NB Power has set a goal to cut power demand by 635 megawatts by 2035 — roughly the equivalent of the power output from the Mactaquac hydroelectric dam.

Brian Kenny, the energy critic for the Opposition Liberals, said the deal signed with Siemens is a good first step, but the government needs to announce specifics about the costs and the benefits to ratepayers.