Alternative reaction

Andrew Robinson
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Muskrat Falls. —Transcontinental file photo

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.

Organizations: Geostorage Associates, Public Utilities Board, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Lower Churchill River, France Corner Brook Grand River Quebec Labrador.Based Groswater Bay North West River

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Recent comments

  • Cyril Rogers
    August 30, 2011 - 15:32 are not only wrong, you are dreaming in technicolor if you think our vast empty land will be filled by eager newcomers. Most of the immigrants who come here can't wait to get to a major city or leave for other reasons. Now, just to clarify that point, I am a born and bred Newfoundlander and Labradorian and there is no place I'd rather be. However, it is not for everyone. As for your argument about the need for this project, you have been listening to the spin doctors at the Confederation Building and at NALCOR for too long. I will concede that it is poosible that Muskrat FALLS IS A GOOD DEAL BUT THEY ARE SIMPLY IN TOO BIG A RUSH TO ENSHRINE DANNY'S LEGACY....and this is why the review panel criticized the project. They did not bother to investigate thoroughly the other options and are trying to ram this down our throats at whatever cost. EMERA is actually getting FREE power for 35 years. Had we sold it to them at 10 cents per kwh we would have garnered about 7 billion dollars over that time period. Let's put it this way. If we built the Emera portion and sold that same power, the capital costs plus interest would have been less than 2 billion over the same time period. Who is being fleeced here?

    • brett
      September 01, 2011 - 06:45

      I agree - people won't be lining up to move here. I see an issue with all the new buildings in St. John's itself as I'm not a believer that in 5 years we will see 30,000 new employees + their families (50,000 people move in to St. John's/surrounding area). So I'm not so sure what'll happen with the class B and C commercial buildings... Regardless of the provinces population we will still have to compete with the rest of the expanding world. That was my point. We have to think in terms of competing with the rest of the world, not our 500,000 people. I don't really buy the there's no market for the electricity. Ontario would pay for electricity that runs through Quebec to them, the northern US will pay for it once it's built. Why should they sign up now when it's just talk with years before approvals are completed let alone the project? Residential electricity rates are currently subsidized. You're seeing the rates become unsubsidized, that's not an increase in rates, it's a change from collecting taxes + redistribution. Why should Emera not get a discounted rate of electricity after helping fund the project? I'm not sure what the going rate of electricity is for purchase by a distributor. I'm assuming it's not the residential rate. Does Emera not have pricetag risk on their portion of the project? Is 10cents/kwh an accurate expectation on price for them to pay? Personally I think that NL should be talking to Quebec Hydro again regarding the electricity, but THAT is politically unfeasible. In the end it will at least give us a better bargaining position in 2041...

  • John Smith
    August 30, 2011 - 15:27

    First of all...we have no access to gas...NONE! Secondly, evryone now understands that wind must be backed up with a RELIABLE source. So, yet another fruitcake looking for a grant. Give me a break and go back to europe. Any entity looking at generating electricity today dreams of having access to a hydro project like Muskrat. Only the dupes like this guy would suggest otherwise.

  • Brett is wrong
    August 30, 2011 - 13:19

    Brett, the big hole in your rant is that you are assuming that a profitable market exists for the power that Muskrat Falls will produce. It doesn't. our government has been trying to secure long term customers for a decade and have come up empty. The only customer that they have secured is Emera, and that was by providing them with a promise for electricity at rates lower than what will be charged at home. So much for "no more giveaways". Unless there is a profitable market for the excess power, we are better off addressing our short term needs with smaller projects and waiting for rates to improve. We'll be in a much stronger bargaining position should that happen, and will be able to proceed with the project (possible Gull Island as well) in a manner that will benefit our province instead of taxing it.

  • Cyril Rogers
    August 30, 2011 - 11:03

    There are any number of alternatives that we can utilize to provide power to the Avalon Peninsula, which is essentially where the extra power is supposedly going to be needed. We can do additional upgrades to our current systems on the island, we can supplement existing capacity with wind power, we can do much more to encourage energy conservation, we can tap into the gas offshore, we can consdier a LNG plant to replace Holyrood. All of these options will cost money but can be done incrementally over a number of years. If we take the interest payments alone that will be needed to fund Muskrat Falls, we will have somewhere between 2 and 3 billion dollars to spend over the next 10 years. That kind of money can create a lot of alternatives and a lot of jobs during that period but it is definitely not as glossy as the mega-projects - is that why politicians don't want to look at these alternatives? We also need to reconsider the environmental effects of Muskrat Falls. It may be in faraway Labrador if you live on the Avalon, but it does affect the folks who live there and ultimately all of us. None of these projects, big or small, are completely harmless, but the smaller projects tend to be less damaging overall.

    • brett
      August 30, 2011 - 12:05

      yeah - 500 smaller projects are more efficient, less costly and less harmful than one large project? I don't believe you at all. Conservation is not an answer - the world is growing. We need things to sell to other people. Electricity is a product for possible export. NL + Lab is the size of France but has a population of 500k. Lots of unused/unpopulated land. Land that should have people on it. Cities that should be larger. St. John's has a population of 92,000. (not counting mount pearl 35k + surrounding area - avalon peninsula 220k). That's a pittance. Whole peninsula is half the size of the greater halifax area. Half the size of hamilton in ontario. How do you want to compete in the wider world? Give me a break about the rinky dink small time ideas. I'd like to hear what the environmental IMPACT is from the changes. Not the fish will blah blah, the erosion blah blah, how this actually impacts US. Does it mean we have to import more fish? What is the cost in that, what is the loss to the fishing industry, moose, farmland?? Is it just a minor change in scenery? Cost to tourism? What is the value that is "lost" vs. "gained". I don't care about someone who paid nothing and canoed on the river. It's not his river. It's the provinces river. If he wants to buy it - go ahead. Same with the views. You want to maintain your view - buy the land between what you own + what you want to look at, then buy that too.