Muskrat Falls debate goes live

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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It was a rapid-fire run under the big No. 1 in VOCM Valley. On Wednesday night, a live debate by provincial politicians on the merits of the proposed $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was held at VOCM studios on Kenmount Road in St. John’s.

The event began at 7 p.m. and debaters — Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy, interim Liberal Leader Dwight Ball and NDP Leader Lorraine Michael — were offered a minute to give opening remarks and a minute to close. In between came a series of questions posed by radio hosts Randy Simms and Paddy Daly.

Within their statements and responses, the opposition leaders made note the debate was not happening in the House of Assembly.

Both called for the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) to be granted more time to complete a review of the Muskrat Falls project.

The PUB’s report is expected to be filed by the end of March, although PUB chairman Andy Wells has expressed a desire for more time.

Ball and Michael also said they feel there has been a lack of in-depth assessment of alternative options to the project currently on the table.

More specifically, they said the province has not given proper consideration to the idea of utilizing alternative power sources like wind power and natural gas — as in energy projects found in other parts of the country and around the world — rather than connecting the island to the mainland in order to bring power in from Muskrat Falls.

“We were only given two options. This is our problem right now,” Ball said.

He said the report by Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) assessing the project, released Feb. 1, like the review of the PUB, does not look at alternatives.

Overall, “this is not the type of thorough, rigorous review the people of the province were expecting,” he said.

Ball raised questions on some of the specific details of the plan. He asked for the cost of Muskrat Falls power to Soldiers Pond, near Holyrood.

He noted no firm detail, no legal language, was yet available to discuss, as Nalcor and Emera have not come to an agreement on the project to present to the province. “We don’t have a deal,” he said.

Michael said she had heard “nothing new” from her political fellows over the course of the evening.

Yet she, too, raised questions on certain aspects of the project — including the potential for cost overruns and questions on potential environmental impacts of the hydro dam.

She said she has requested documentation showing Nalcor has looked at alternatives using wind and smaller hydro power. She suggested that kind of in-depth information is not compiled anywhere.

Kennedy was unfazed.

He suggested the Liberal and NDP leaders are being affected by a fear of entering into an energy deal with financial pitfalls akin to the infamous Upper Churchill agreement.

“The debate that’s occurring in the province didn’t occur when the Upper Churchill deal was signed in 1967,” he told reporters.

“While we must learn from the mistakes of the past, as politicians we must not be paralyzed.”

As for giving the PUB more time for its report?

“Despite the criticisms, Nalcor has filed over 15,000 pages of documents and responded to more than 400 requests for information,” Kennedy said.

“So the PUB, I’m assuming, have been doing their work throughout this and they have to answer a question which in my mind Manitoba Hydro has already answered, because Muskrat Falls is clearly the least-cost option.”

Kennedy noted the project has not yet been sanctioned and said there will be a chance for further debate on record once the House opens.

Organizations: Manitoba Hydro International, Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities, NDP

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, VOCM Valley, Kenmount Road

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Recent comments

  • Proud NovaScotian
    February 10, 2012 - 00:27

    You have a great PUB. Ours is an embarrasement and acts like its members are Emera employees. As of this January, our residential power rate is now the highest in Atlantic Canada. Emera is easily the most hated corporation operating in Nova Scotia. A title well earned through never ending deceit, manipulation, and GREED. Promotions and hefty year end bonuses are not based on managerial or negotiating skill but on their ability to weasel. It truly hurts to think Newfoundlanders will soon be their next victims. Hard to fathom, but Hydro Quebec has more morals then "these trust me with a handshake" thugs. At least the Quebecois will stick to what's signed on paper. Don't believe me, ask any Newfoundlander residing in Nova Scotia. Good Luck!!

  • John Smith
    February 09, 2012 - 12:19

    Like Mr. Ball said himself..."that is our problem right now"... Last week it was some other misleading piece of innuendo, next week they will make up something doesn't matter. There is plenty of info re. wind and gas on the Nalcor site, for those who want to read it. Wind is simply not a viable option without the connection to the mainland. You don't need to be an expert to see that. We cannot rely on wind as a main is not feasible on any level. Ms. Michael mentioned storing the wind power in tanks and using hydrogen ect. That is science fiction at this stage of the game...years away from reality. As well, LNG is not a viable option. Who will tell the oil companies who own the gas that now we want it, and they should build a multibillion dollar infrastructure for us so we can retrofit an aging plant in holyrood, and burn more fossil fuel, untill that's gone. Then a dam? When it will cost 20 Million? Like I said, no report will ever satisfy those who are out to use this development for their own personal gain, be it the liberals, the ndp, or the media. I guess now we will have to pay for a new report to tell us again why wind and gas will not work, or be cost effective here. Then the liberals will tell us why it's no good, and the media will sell their papers ect. Sad, really sad.

  • johnpieroway
    February 09, 2012 - 09:57

    its pretty hard for dwight ball to answer any questions on muskrat falls,when the progressive conservitive government is so tight lipped aboutthe whold project.

  • Will
    February 09, 2012 - 08:59

    Why don’t they just tell us what we already know? Your current electric bill is based on a rate of about 10 cents per k/h. You’ve already been told that MF power will be at least 14 cents per k/h. Pull out your electric bill. You’re going to pay at least 40% more with MF than what you're paying today. Keep using Holyrood and you're at the mercy of bill oil and eventually you’ll probably end up paying as much or more than MF. Are there other options? We don't know because they’ve only looking at these two.

  • Sorry
    February 09, 2012 - 07:36

    The word is "lower cost" not "least cost" since only two alternatives were explored. Saying "least cost" implies more than two alternatives were explored, which is not true, and it only misleads the public. People should start using the proper description of lower cost. MF may indeed be the lower cost but not necessarily the least cost.

  • Charles
    February 09, 2012 - 07:33

    I have to agree with you on this one...Dwight Ball couldn't answer a simple question,concerning this project...just like to hear himself talk ...

  • jack
    February 09, 2012 - 07:33

    yes you knows the citzens will pay for it , we havent got a choice to say no we dont want to pay for it , thats why they didnt answer the most direct question,,, rich gettin richer , one day the change will come marx

  • McManus
    February 09, 2012 - 07:06

    None of the debaters answered a basic question: will citizen consumers of electrical power see their power bill double or triple to pay for this project? If this project will earn hundreds of millions of dollars in profit every year it is in operation (possibly a century) can't other ways to finance it be found? If this is a VIABLE project, why can't it finance itself? I was disappointed in the performance of all 3 of them. Dwight Ball was by far the most disappointing, asking ethereal questions and yammering on about no democratic debate on this project in the House. Michael Ignatieff called a general election because Harper was found in contempt of parliament and the country gave Harper a mojority (God help us) and showed Ignatieff the door. People don't care about spouting politicians on an issue like this; they care about their wallet and what is being taken from it.

    • Jeff
      February 09, 2012 - 09:00

      What's a "mojority"? Obviously you cannot articulate.

    • Spelling Bee
      February 09, 2012 - 09:29

      Probably a typo, Jeff. Valid questions though. Perhaps Jeff can answer the questions because the politicians have not?