A panel of Nalcor Energy staff, leaders on the proposed Muskrat Falls hydroelectric megaproject, remained in the hot seat Tuesday — the second day for the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities
(PUB) public hearings on the project in St. John’s.
The day opened with final questions from Consumer Advocate Thomas Johnson, who ended his time by saying he would collect the questions he has received from the public and compile them for the record.
PUB counsel Maureen Greene then took over.
Calling for expressions of interest
Greene asked about the current status of project work, noting Nalcor has been issuing calls for “expressions of interest,” though the PUB review is not yet complete and the project is not sanctioned by government.
“A decision has not been made to award those packages, those tenders,” Nalcor vice-president Gilbert Bennett said.
Bennett explained seeking expressions of interest helps with required cost assessments and timelines, in addition to being standard practice in a project the size of the $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls development.
Funding for construction costs is expected to flow only with project sanction.
Paul Harrington, project director for the Lower Churchill Project, said the project team is hoping to have a collection of completed steps and fresh project information available by mid-June to, in part, feed the ultimate decision by government.
An updated risk assessment is in the works, as is an updated load forecast.
Some items are ongoing, but have progressed since Nalcor first moved the project forward into the review process, according to Harrington.
Aboriginal consultation would be an example. “It’s degrees of readiness. It’s not necessarily on or off,” he said.
Later in the day, Greene drilled down through a series of questions on the subjects of system reliability, requirements, integration and regulation.
On the prevailing question of the “isolated island” option versus the Muskrat Falls development plan, Greene asked why Nalcor hadn’t considered an “incremental approach” — using small power projects to meet provincial need for the very near future, seeing what happens with the potential in certain alternatives, the price of oil and other key factors.
In other words, using small builds to “buy time.”
Bennett responded, “I guess the question is, buying time for what?”
He echoed previous statements by Nalcor Energy CEO Ed Martin, saying not making a decision on the way forward will lead down the path toward an isolated island option for the province — whether it is chosen or not. “We will remain isolated,” he said.
Bennett pointed to the cost of the project in today’s dollars, the cost of fuel and the potential for carbon costs to be issued, affecting the price of power from Holyrood, saying Nalcor’s staff “think this is a good answer.”