Hydro-Quebec has acquired a reputation as “the continent’s most secretive utility,” says a U.S. energy consultant.

Hydro is keeping secrets from the citizens of Quebec because it has a “fear” of “an open and honest intellectual exchange,” says Robert McCullough, an economics professor at Portland State University in Oregon.

McCullough’s comments came as part of a presentation by the Grand Council of the Crees to the Quebec Energy Board, which is holding hearings on Hydro-Quebec this month.

At the hearings, Hydro has been slammed by the Crees, environmentalists, big business and consumer groups for a controversial proposal to change the way it calculates its rates.

The utility no longer wants to base rates on its costs because it wants to keep cost information secret from the public. Hydro argues that in the new competitive climate, it shouldn’t have to release too much information to its competition. Instead, it wants rates to be fixed at an arbitrary price unrelated to costs.

But McCullough said Hydro’s obsession with secrecy is ridiculous and comes at a time when other utilities in North America are opening up their books.

“In 20 years of practice in the electric business, we have never reviewed a more primitive, inefficient and inequitable proposal than that Hydro-Quebec has put forward,” McCullough said in his report. He called on the Energy Board to reject Hydro’s proposal.

“Since Hydro-Quebec’s overall finances are readily available to investors, the only secrets that are being kept are being kept from the citizens of Quebec.”

John Burcombe, spokesman for Quebec environmental group Mouvement Au Courant, said Hydrohas taken a “harder line” on secrecy since the arrival of André Caillé as chairman. Hecalled Caillé’s climate of secrecy “disconcerting” and said his group also opposesHydro’s plan.