There has been much debate about NB Power and its role as either the core of New Brunswick’s future wealth as a key component of the “energy hub” or as an inefficient debt laden albatross around New Brunswicker’s necks. As ex-premier Shawn Graham quickly discovered, New Brunswickers have strong feelings when it comes to NB Power. Everybody is quick to complain about rising power rates and to complain about any perceived unfairness when it comes to power rates for different class of users, especially large industrial users. It is clear that change is needed however as the status quo of ever increasing power rates combined with ever increasing debt loads is not sustainable.
There are a few basic (sometimes competing) goals or tenets that must be adhered to in all NB Power decisions and reforms:
- Cost recovery: The utility must be financially viable and the price for power must reflect the cost of generation, transmission and distribution. Operational deficits are not desirable nor sustainable.
- Debt repayment: A long term goal should be to reduce the amount of debt held by NB Power. This would free up additional dollars that are currently going to debt servicing costs.
- Low power rates: As much as possible power rates should be low to provide competitive advantages to NB industry and to reduce the burden on consumers.
- Low environmental impact: As much as possible power generation, transmission and distribution should have as little environmental impact as possible.
Following these goals, I’d recommend some or all of the following initiatives:
- Convert one or more existing generation plants to natural gas to give more flexibility and take advantage of low natural gas rates. This would also leverage the natural gas development that has taken place in the province as well as the LNG terminal built by Irving Oil.
- Establish a feed-in tariff rate for consumer micro-generation in a similar fashion to Ontario’s microFit program. Rates don’t need to be as high as Ontario’s which I think are unsustainable but it has to be better than NB’s current net metering rules which do little to encourage consumer renewable generation.
- Establish a rising block tariff to better reflect the true marginal cost of generation. NB Power could also take this a step further and establish time of day pricing to help pricing reflect the true cost of generation at peak and non-peak hours. Currently there is no economic incentive for a consumer to move consumption to off-peak hours.
- Introduce a smart meter program that will install power consumption meters which provide more feedback to consumers on their hourly and daily power consumption instead of some large monthly number that consumers cannot correlate back their consumption habits.
- Acknowledging that large industrial power users support the large fixed costs of power generation as well as an economic development thrust, establish competitive industrial power rates for large industrial users. In a simple model, this could simply be based on consumption or in a more complex scenario industrial power rates could be based on the type of industrial use with targeted uses such as IT or aerospace manufacturing getting lower rates.
Outside of NB Power, the government should continue to invest in and pursue energy efficiency programs for both consumers and industry. In addition, subsidies should be provided for low income consumers who may have trouble affording to pay to heat their homes.
In addition, there should be incentives put in place to convert home heating from electricity to wood and/or wood pellet. This would help reduce peak winter load (when power is expensive) and encourage the use of local fuel sources and local biomass industries. By replacing electricity generated by imported fuel with local biomass, more energy dollars would stay in the New Brunswick economy and generate economic benefits.
Earlier this week Google announced that it was buying Motorola Mobility for $40 per share or $12.5 Billion total.
Motorola Mobility which was previously known as the Mobile Devices division of Motorola, is a major Android hardware manufacturer with products including the popular Droid, Xoom and Atrix devices. Motorola Mobility also builds and sells a large number of TV set top boxes for digital and IP based TV. With the acquisition, Google now owns a way to control the complete Android stack from hardware to operating system, to apps. Google also now has the means to build hardware for its Google TV concept.
There is a fear that having Google create Android hardware will give it an unfair advantage over other Android hardware manufacturers such as Samsung and HTC. Google has claimed that it will operate Motorola Mobility as a separate business and that Android would remain fully open. Judging from these quotes, other Android partners are welcoming the buyout.
Does Google Really Want to Get Into Hardware?
After all of this time, does Google really want to get into the hardware business? I doubt it. The real goal of the Motorola buyout is for Google to protect Android from a patent war from competitors Apple and Microsoft. Motorola Mobility has about 14600 patents granted and 6700 pending. A large number of these patents are in the mobile field and could be used as ammo in a patent lawsuit.
With the recent acquisition by Apple and Microsoft of Nortel’s patents and the recent patent lawsuits flying around in the mobile space, I guess that Google felt the need to protect the Android ecosystem against lawsuits by providing deterrents in the form of possible counter-suits using their newly expanded patent portfolio.
I find it quite sad that this patent war has escalated to the level where tech giants have to spend their efforts suing and defending lawsuits instead of generating true technical innovations.
For a long time, New Brunswick lacked a true industry association which could speak on behalf of and for the IT companies and interests in the province.
Certainly there have been many groups accomplishing great feats in the promotion and growth of IT such as KIRA, Tech South East and PropelICT. Each group had their own goals and operate fairly independently.
NBICT arrives on the scene
In 2009 lead by Larry Sampson the New Brunswick Information Technology Council was formed hoping to be the association to represent NB IT firms and interests. The council has had some success in growing and working to achieve its goals. The council seems to be consulted by government when developing strategies and has developed position papers and has lobbied the government on behalf of the members.
One detail which I found unsettling however was the possible overlap or competing interests of the various IT groups in the province. Were they in competition with each other? How much overlap was there between the groups? Which groups should be engaged with whom? The industry is small enough in New Brunswick that competing and overlapping groups cannot possibly be not very effective.
Because of these concerns, I was very happy to hear read the news: Tech South East, PropelICT, and ITAC Join the NBITC Board . Hopefully all of the groups across the province can come together and work together towards the strengthening of the very important sector to the New Brunswick economy.
From the groups, I would like to clearly see the differences between the groups identified, to clarify their roles in NB’s IT ecosystem and ensure that their energies are put to the best use for the province as a whole. For example as an outside company, which group should I talk to engage with and why? Will the NBITC now act as the primary provincial IT body and direct people or inquiries to the various groups as appropriate? PropelICT seems to be more focused on the entrepreneur and startup side of the industry but at least to me it isn’t clear how all of the associations fit together.
What is your opinion on the various IT groups around the province? Should they be merged into one organization with regional chapters, perhaps?
Will the New Brunswick Information Technology sector finally have a strong and unified voice to speak for them?
ESRI is to soon release ArcGIS for Android which is an application which allows users to use ArcGIS content directly from their Android device. Users of ArcGIS for Android (which will be available from the Android Market) will be able to display and browse maps, query remote ArcGIS map layers and data, use data from ArcGIS online and collect GIS data.
There is also an API as well as an Eclipse plug-in that developers can use to exploit some of the capabilities such as geocoding and geoprocessing of ESRI’s ArcGIS Server from an Android mobile phone or tablet device. There is currently a beta program available for sign up Java developers who wish to beta test the new Eclipse plugin and API from ESRI.
Update: ESRI has delayed their release of ArcGIS for Android from Q2 to Q3 based on “feedback from internal and external beta sites”
Update 2 : ESRI has released version 1.0 of ArcGIS for Android in the Android Market.
Update 3 : ESRI has released an updated version 1.1 of ArcGIS SDK on their website and version 1.5 of ArcGIS for Android on the Google Market.
A new Pita Pit location has recently opened up on Fredericton’s northside on Brookside Drive in the newly developed West Hills Plaza across the street from the Brookside Mall. Being the second Pita Pit location in the city after the York Street location means that people in the area are already familiar with the product and northside residents will no longer have to cross the bridge and head downtown for their pita fix.
This is a great location as this is a growing area with many new homes being built nearby. There is also several apartments and condos nearby which will have easy access to the restaurant.Â The Brookside Mall also has a fairly large provincial government office which recently moved in which will definitely boost the Pita Pit’s lunch crowd.
Of note is that this new Pita Pit location is the first franchise in Canada to have a drive thru.
Personally I’m glad to have a close alternative to the nearby Subway on Douglas Avenue as quick meal option. I wish the owner Jeremy Fox all of the best with his new business.
As has been widely publicized, New Brunswick along with the most Canadian provinces as well as the federal government have recently been struggling with budget deficits. Reduced revenues in forms of income and corporate taxes along with additional stimulus spending has converted break-even or small deficits into major problematic deficits. New Brunswick in particular has been running deficits of approximately $750 million per year with no clear indication of when or how it will return to a balanced budget. This troublesome trend was noticed by Moody’s Bond rating agency who downgraded the province’s credit rating in August of 2009 and by S&P who cut its outlook for New Brunswick’s long term credit.
The Quest to Spend
Why did the NB government spend so much over the last few years when revenues were down?
- Stimulus spending : Spending was increased to stave off undesirable effects of the recession. By increasing spending governments in Canada and indeed around the world cushioned the economy and prevented what could have been a much worse recession. There are questions as to whether perhaps the New Brunswick government spent too much money in the name of stimulus when the economy was relatively less impacted by the recession especially compared to the manufacturing focused province of Ontario.
- Matching federal funds : In the name of stimulus and combating the recessions, the federal government offered matching funds for many project via the Economic Action Plan. The provincial government of New Brunswick took advantage of the availability of these funds to help fund projects where possible. While this is seen as a good way to help fund projects the fact that the province typically had to match any dollars that the federal government provided meant that there was a large expense to outlay by the province. Overall through the various stimulus funds including the Building Canada Plan the federal government contributed almost $500 million in New Brunswick which forced Fredericton to contribute a similar amount.
- Politics and Elections : Election years are known to raise government spending as parties in power try to placate voters with spending promises. 2010 was no exception as Shawn Graham and the Liberal party tried to battle back from strong public backlash against a failed proposed NB Power sale to Hydro Quebec as well as other earlier unpopular decisions such as changes in French Immersion programs in schools.
All of these factors have led New Brunswick to go from a break-even budget in 2007-2008 to a $800 million deficit in 2010.
Next question: What can be done about it?
Do you have a business idea that you would love to see come to fruition? Are you working on developing an innovative idea into a product? Do you need more resources to make your dream come true?
If so, check out New Brunswick Innovation Foundation’s Breakthru business plan competition.
Breakthru is a competition to designed to help foster innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in New Brunswick as well as help mentor participants and prepare their companies for growth.
First place in the competition will receive funding of $100k cash along with services from the competition’s partners which include PriceWaterhouseCoopers, CBC, Fredericton based design company OrangeSprocket and legal firm Cox & Palmer.
Second and third place both receive a $50k cash investment along with services from the above firms.
All that is required to enter the competition is to submit a 60 second video elevator pitch of your idea, an executive summary, a $75 entry fee and a filled out application form (PDF) by January 10th, 2011.
For more information go to http://nbif.com or download the Breakthru participant’s handbook (PDF).
After 7 months on the market, Samsung announced that it has reached the sales milestone of 10 million Galaxy S Android phones. This might pale in comparison to Apple’s achievement of 14.1 million iPhone sales in its fourth quarter but this remains a remarkable achievement and a definite indication that the Android market has reached a critical mass and is a platform that needs to be considered when developing mobile applications.
Android becomes the leading smartphone OS
The Galaxy, Motorola’s Droid and other phones have led Android to become the leading mobile OS for new smartphones while tablets such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and even devices such as Logitech’s Google TV Revue imply that there is an ever greater market out there for Android apps.
There are always uncertainties in the market such as Apple’s next move (perhaps to new carriers, new iOS version), how RIM’s new Blackberry OS releases or its upcoming Playbook will be accepted or how HP will handle Palm’s Pre and its WebOS but it is clear that Android is going to be a major player and is not going to let Apple run away with the mobile OS market.