Former premier calls for independent panel to be convened
Brian Peckford — File photo
A letter from former premier Brian Peckford to Premier Kathy Dunderdale, emailed early Tuesday morning, has laid out Peckford’s concerns regarding the advancement of the proposed $6.2-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
Opposition members supported the statements by Peckford, objecting to the project’s development to date.
Dunderdale said she sees little merit in the opinions.
In the letter, Peckford states he had worked on development of the Lower Churchill, both as minister of the former Department of Mines and Energy and as premier. Having followed the advancement of the proposed Muskrat Falls project, he questions the efficacy of the project reviews.
“I submit that appropriate impartial assessment to this point has been lacking,” he states.
He writes he does not believe the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) is qualified to review a project the size of Muskrat Falls and the reference question being answered by the PUB is limiting.
He adds he believes project proponent Nalcor Energy has a bias towards a hydro development based on its background, and refers to the Muskrat Falls project as “Nalcor’s baby.”
“There is deep concern in some quarters of the real likelihood of major cost overruns and the impact this could have on the financial integrity of the province,” he says.
The former premier ultimately recommends a panel of experts be convened to review the work to date “and to specifically address the natural gas options and test their viability and cost.”
Liberal MHA Yvonne Jones applauded the letter.
“I think we need an independent review and it’s nice to see a former premier like Brian Peckford stepping up and showing his concern for the long term implications of a project like this on Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.
“I certainly would support what he’s asking and I think most people in the province would.”
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael supported the call for considering multiple alternative options for supplying power to Newfoundland and Labrador, regardless of any work Nalcor Energy says it has completed to narrow down the options for review.
Michael said she, unlike Peckford, feels the PUB could conduct the broader review.
“I think the PUB has the wherewithal to get the expertise to work with them. I think the problem is that they haven’t been given a mandate to do that, they’ve only been given a mandate to look at two options that Nalcor has decided on,” she said.
“That’s such a narrow mandate, however if they were able to move further ahead and do the wider piece of work that needs to be done, they can hire the expertise to work with them.”
Meanwhile, when asked about the letter following a visit with students at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School, Dunderdale questioned Peckford’s knowledge of the work that has gone into the currently proposed project.
“Mr. Peckford — I don’t know how close Mr. Peckford ever was to the energy files here in the province in terms of a new development. I know a great deal of work went into (Upper Churchill) redress,” she said.
“And you know the work that’s taken place, certainly in the last eight years, he’s not been privy to. And you know he certainly hasn’t been here for the debate. If he has fundamental questions, or issues to raise, or an analysis to provide to show where we’re flawed in our thinking, or where there are gaps, then you know I’d be happy to hear him.
“But a message from afar, about a debate that you haven’t been engaged in, or public information sessions that you haven’t participated in, then you know it’s difficult for me to deal with.”
She said the PUB tapped experts at Manitoba Hydro in order to be sure it is properly informed for its own findings on the project. The province waits for PUB to conclude its review work, but she said she is satisfied with the methodology and the course of the project to date.
The full text of the Peckford letter is available online at www.thetelegram.com.