Engineer and geophysicist Claude Anger was surprised when he saw news reports last week saying the joint review panel’s environmental assessment report on the Lower Churchill hydroelectric development recommended the province and Nalcor review alternative energy resources.
Anger, who made a presentation to the panel April 4 with business partner and professional geoscientist Alan Ruffman, came to a similar conclusion in his own 20-page report.
“Nalcor Energy seems content to interpret this mandate required in the (environmental impact assessment) process to simply mean to look at alternatives of how to build their chosen Lower Churchill River hydroelectric project rather than studying an alternative to the project,” they wrote in a document titled “Alternatives to Harnessing the Lower Churchill River.”
Anger, who lives in France, was back in the province this month to attend the International Symposium on Oil and Gas Resources in western Newfoundland in Corner Brook.
“I was hoping they would consider our (presentation) at the hearing, but I thought they would not do much,” said Anger, who operates Geostorage Associates with Ruffman.
In their conclusion, Anger and Ruffman stated there are cheaper options available for providing electricity to the province through the utilization of wind power in combination with natural gas from the Grand Banks.
“I think that the Public Utilities Board should look at all the solutions,” he said, referring to the board’s review of the Muskrat Falls project now underway on behalf of the provincial government. Global consulting firm Navigant is conducting a review for Nalcor.
Critics in Labrador of the proposed project are embracing the findings of the joint panel review, though Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Inc. president Clarice Blake Rudkowski knows there will be more challenges ahead.
“There are definitely alternatives to this project,” said Rudkowski. “We’ve got to be looking at this seriously now and see how we can deliver energy without the negative impacts that hydro presents.”
Her group is against developing the Lower Churchill River — also known as the Grand River — over economic, environmental and cultural concerns.
“We have to start thinking seriously about alternatives,” she said.
The concerned citizens group, which started in 1998 in reaction to an earlier Lower Churchill agreement between the province and Quebec, had representatives present at all hearings held in Labrador.
Based on the after-effects of the Upper Churchill development spearheaded by then-premier Joey Smallwood in the late 1960s, Rudkowski said it would be unwise to proceed with development of the Lower Churchill.
“There was methylmercury contamination of the fish, which travelled up the food chain and resulted in signs around the project telling us not to eat too much fish because it could be damaging to our health. Secondly, we saw changes to the ecosystem all along the river right down into Groswater Bay.”
Robin Goodfellow-Baikie, a town councillor in North West River, has canoed on the Lower Churchill River and was also a participant in hearings held by the joint review panel in Labrador.
“The Lower Churchill feels like the heart of Labrador,” said Goodfellow-Baikie. “I have paddled the river. It’s a wonderful experience.”
While Rudkowski said she understands there are many people in Labrador who want to see the development of the Lower Churchill become a reality, she said many others are starting to ask questions about the project, particularly in light of the joint review panel’s report.
Her group is now focusing on the federal review of the 1,100-kilometre transmission link between Labrador and Newfoundland. The federal government’s major projects management office is handling the review, which is now at the environmental assessment stage.