Nalcor and Emera have yet to come to final terms on the Lower Churchill development.
Friday morning, Nalcor CEO Ed Martin and Emera CEO Chris Huskilson provided an update on the work towards finalizing an agreement on the project including details of the island links.
In the lobby of the Nalcor building in St. John's, they told reporters the latest deadline they had set for themselves would not be met.
A preliminary agreement, an initial term sheet, was announced by the provincial government on Nov. 18, 2010.
"Since that time, both companies have been progressing with work to convert the initial term sheet into formal legal and commercial arrangements," Martin said. "Significant progress" has been made and final contracts are nearing completion. "However we will not have all the work completed by Jan. 31 (2012) as previously stated," he said.
Both Martin and Huskilson refused to offer up a new timeline for the contract work to be finished. "The project is continuing and the work to move the project along on schedule is continuing as well. So it's not holding anything up," said the Emera CEO.
Response to the update was swiftly offered by all provincial political parties, yet the St. John's Board of Trade was first out of the gate in addressing the update.
As with the politicians who spoke later in the day, the board fully supported Nalcor and Emera in not rushing through the contracts for the $6.2-billion deal.
"We welcome the additional information on Nalcor and Emera negotiations, and support the approach of taking some extra time to make sure negotiations are completed properly," said board CEO Nancy Healey.
She encouraged the creation of contracts that provide "clarity and consistency" for the business community. "This is a major undertaking and the process should be given the proper time for completion in the best interests of everyone involved, including residential and business rate payers in this province," she stated in a news release.
At the House of Assembly, there was no issue taken with the fact Nalcor and Emera would not have a set of finalized contracts by month's end.
"My first thought was that it's probably the wisest decision they've made to date, not to set any more deadlines," said NDP leader Lorraine Michael.
"I think it's in all of our best interests, all of us in the province, to take the time that is necessary to do any deal," Liberal energy critic Yvonne Jones said.
However, while not criticizing the latest update, both opposition parties did call for an extension for the work of the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB). The PUB is scheduled to file a report on the project by March 31.
The extension for Nalcor and Emera was equated to the PUB's situation. According to Michaels, "what's good for the goose should be good for the gander," and the PUB should have more time, just as Nalcor and Emera have more time for their contract work.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale objected to the comparison, saying the work of the PUB in providing response on several basic questions on the project differs from the development of detailed contracts based on a term sheet. They are simply "two different processes," she said.
The premier noted a report from Manitoba Hydro - providing its assessment of the project and answers to key questions put to the PUB - is expected in early February. Manitoba Hydro was tapped by the PUB for the work.
Also, Dunderdale said, work on the details of a federal loan guarantee is progressing.
"There's no need for the loan guarantee to be done for the House of Assembly. The loan guarantee needs to get done, it needs to get done in a timely manner... but work is progressing very well. There's no bumps in the road," she said.
One final, key, report is in the works - the result of an environmental assessment by the federal government. There is no date set for that report to be filed.
The premier has said she generally anticipates more of this documentation to be in the hands of MHAs and available for discussion in the spring session of the House of Assembly.
"We'll wait and see what they come forward with, but I firmly believe that the government owe it to the people of this province to have a full debate around this project before sanctioning," Jones said.