Lots more detail coming for Muskrat Falls: Martin

James McLeod
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Sanctioning numbers will be ‘much tighter’

Nalcor CEO Ed Martin says he’ll share details about the Muskrat Falls project this summer. — Telegram file photo

Nalcor CEO Ed Martin says when the House of Assembly debates the Muskrat Falls project this summer, he hopes to be able to show them the “full picture.”

That picture will ideally include full details about the federal government loan guarantee, and finalized legal agreements with Emera in Nova Scotia to sell excess power.

What will definitely be made public later this year, Martin said, is much more detailed information on capital costs, financial estimates, oil forecasts and an updated schedule for the completion of Muskrat Falls.

Earlier this month, Premier Kathy Dunderdale announced that before the government formally decides whether to sanction the Muskrat Falls project, she will open the House of Assembly to debate the issue.

The full package of information used to inform the final sanctioning decision — also referred to as the “decision gate three” decision — will be made public, and given to Manitoba Hydro International for an independent review.

Martin sat down with The Telegram to explain what will be in that package of information. He said it will include much better cost estimates

“It’s going to be something that is much, much, much tighter than we had before, because so much engineering is done,” he said.

In total, he said more than 40 per cent of the dam’s engineering and design work has been done, and that should give Nalcor a much better idea of how much it will cost to build the dam and the transmission line running from Labrador to Soldier’s Pond, near St. John’s.

There won’t be a similar level of detail on other projects, though. In late 2010, Nalcor assessed the options, and at “decision Gate 2” it decided Muskrat Falls was probably the best choice.

Since then Nalcor has been working to refine plans on Muskrat, but hasn’t done any additional work on other options, such as refurbishing and replacing the thermal generating station at Holyrood.

“As far as the level of engineering in terms of upgrading Holyrood, building a new gas plant, building the other small hydros, building the wind, no we haven’t brought it along that far,” Martin said. “If we brought every one of those things through and did the same level of engineering to each of those as we’re doing on this, it would be a very, very expensive undertaking.”

That isn’t going to sit well with Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, who has been asking for detailed study of natural gas, wind power, and the possibility of using Upper Churchill power after 2041.

“All the information that we get on this, I mean, I want to see the same level of information and studies done on those three things as we’ve done on Muskrat,” he said. “And if we don’t get that, yes, I’ll be disappointed because I think the people of the province deserve that.”

Ball said that the picture Nalcor had at decision Gate 2 was “back-of-the-napkin” calculations, and that’s not good enough.

Martin said there will also be a lot more information on the financing for the debate in the House.

Nalcor has been fairly secretive about its financing plans, fearing that if it publicizes its assumptions, that could affect the rates it can get when it goes to lenders in the market.

“What we’ll do is put together a reasonable program. It won’t be the final program we’ll land on because we don’t want to totally inform the market,” he said. “We’re narrowing it down. We’ve got a pretty good idea of how this thing could look, within a range of debt-equity structures.”

As for the two other major elements — the federal loan guarantee and the final deal for excess power with Emera in Nova Scotia — those parts are less clear.

Martin said all indications from the federal government is that there will be a loan guarantee, which will lower borrowing rates by about two per cent. Whether the final, formal loan guarantee will be in place by the summer isn’t certain.

Similarly, Martin said Nalcor is getting close to finished with the legal agreements with Emera. All the basic agreements have been drawn up, and most of the wording has been agreed on. Small sections are still in brackets where the lawyers need to hammer the specifics out.

“The vast majority of words have been landed on in all of those agreements,” he said.

Martin said ideally, those agreements will be done before the final sanctioning decision, but if it’s not done on time, he wouldn’t let that hold up the final decision.

“In my mind, I’d like to have those Emera agreements complete to inform me of the full picture before we sanctioned,” he said.

What’s clear, he said, is that if the project gets sanctioned this summer, work could begin within weeks. Already, they’re looking at the first job, which will be to build a road in to Muskrat Falls.

Ball, cautioned once the sanctioning decision is made, that’s it.

“The thing is with Muskrat, when you stick that first shovel in the ground, you’re all-in then. You can’t turn back once this project starts,” he said. “If we don’t get that level of detail for the other options, we’ll always look back at this project and wonder.”


Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Manitoba Hydro International

Geographic location: Muskrat, Nova Scotia, Holyrood Labrador

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Recent comments

  • robert
    April 22, 2012 - 17:49

    You know what these internet arguments need? References.

  • Proud Nova Scotian
    April 17, 2012 - 19:15

    Be thankful that your PUB could not be intimidated, bought out, or misdirected with Danny's last PUB appointment.. After Barbados, Newfoundland is next on Emeras island hopping list. If things don't soon change, you will hold the debt, and Emera will control YOUR resource if you try to export it. You would think that Dunderdale would be more careful in whose company she has very publicly decided to snuggle up to. This is a must read for every Newfoundlander. See http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/4346

  • Cold Future
    April 17, 2012 - 10:05

    Well said Proud Nova Scotian. Why the NL government cannot see it is bizzare. This is such a super sweetheart deal for mainland Canada that the feds are beating up on the enviromental assessment consultants to shut them down and get on with it, regardless of ecomomic viability for NL people. Peter Mckay will be here with a broad smile to sign on the dotted line. When this fiasco proceeds, it will have the effect of sending any and all gains from offshore oil royalties back to our dear friends in mainland Canada. Joey Smallwood made a huge giveaway at Upper Churchill, but he did not set it up so that his constituents, the people of NL, would bleed through the nose forever to pay for his giveaway.

  • Proud Nova Scotian
    April 17, 2012 - 08:28

    Forgot the biggest piece of BS from Emera. That 170MW of free power for 35 years is not for Nova Scotians, its for their export market. Nova Scotians are in the same boat as you and get the privelege of paying full price just like you. When Emera negotiated for that free power because of their considerable "investment" they FORGOT to mention that they have NO risk or actual investment at all. Because of the sweet deal made when Nova Scotia Power became privitizied, Nova Scotians will have to pay for the NS/ NFLD subsea link through our future power bills because it is considered core infrastucture spending. Emera is attempting to take both of us to the cleaners in one shot. What a great company!

  • In other words
    April 17, 2012 - 06:33

    In other words they're just going to ram it through the House. They have no respect for themselves or anybody else.

  • Proud Nova Scotian
    April 16, 2012 - 19:07

    After all the spirited debate in this newspaper, still don't understand WHY Newfoundlanders refuse to consider cheap Lower Churchill power. When you take over that dam in 2041, you still need the subsea link and transmission lines to access it. Nalcor can use its present loan guarentee for that and pay Quebec 5 cent kw/hr wholesale for readily available cheap Churchill hydro. No risk, no big deficit, just no exporting! It's a win/win situation. Face it, you got to deal with Quebec sometime and why let them stop doing scheduled maintenance on your dam way before the switch. Buying Churchill power is basically an insurance policy to protect your own future resource before you actually take it over. Take it from me , a business owner in Nova Scotia, if Emera is trying to cut a deal with you, its to their benefit, not yours. All Nova Scotia have witnessed them lie through their teeth for the last 10 years to their benefit. Emera's latest brainwave: since starving Nova Scotians are using less power, they have to charge more to maintain their record profits! If Churchill gets developed, our power rate will climb to an estimated @ 20 cents kw/hr. Yes, we have cheap 7 cent kw/hr Quebec hydro power at the New Brunswick border but Emera won't touch it if it can make more profit off your resource. When this project finally goes up for debate in your legislature, the opposition parties also should press Cathy Dunderdale on WHY Emera's customer satisfaction ratings are in the bottom of the toilet in both Nova Scotia and Barbadoes and what makes her government so special that she can trust Emera's stated intentions/estimates when no other government can.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 14, 2012 - 14:16

    To quote Cabot Martin......"Should we spend $500 million on an LNG project and pay less than 10 cent a kilowatt hour for our winter peaking power or spend $7 billion to $10 billion on Muskrat and pay about 36 cents per kilowatt hour for that power?" ........... As I understand it no onshore gas storage is needed as the Holyrood plant would be duel (gas/diesel). ....... $500 million includes the cost of a brand new gas vessel anchored in Conception Bay (as Hibernia's shuttle tankers do now) and the anchored gas storage vessel is refueled from another vessel a few times a year. ....... Ice is not a problem as some diesel could be stored on site for the once every 20 years or so ice might delay arrival of the supply vessel...... No debt, no risk, no 35-40 cent/KWh power from Muskrat Falls, no burden on our children and grandchildren --------- NO COST OVERRUN, NO POLITICAL RISK, and a small but significant move towards potential future use of offshore gas and the building of an offshore gas industry.

  • John Smith
    April 14, 2012 - 09:43

    So maurice, the Danny williams conspriacy theories are not working so it's back to the...lol shale gas from the US. OK that's great. Now you explain to us how we will access that gas, how they will get it here, thousands of miles away...how it will be licquified, pressurized, transported across international borders, stored here regassified. How we will be reliant on...what? Ships in the middle of February to get gas on shore here, so we can remain dependant on fossil fuels from another country...just like we are now? You would rather spend billions on that, rather than build a dam, in our own province, so we will be dependant on no outside source forever, we will pay into owning our own generation, proven, reliable, non polluting energy generation?No science fiction involved.You have ne guarantees into the future how much gas will cost. Do you think, even if there was a reliable way to get the gas here, that you could get someone in the states to sign a contract guaranteeing price for the next 50 or 60 years? The naysayers have nothing...nothing. Science fiction, and BS. Why do you even bother posting your made up, make believe BS?

  • MBC
    April 14, 2012 - 07:31

    NALCOR is going to table complete information on the MF project. Will NALCOR table details on all other power options? Isn't this what the PUB wanted to be able to make a recommendation?

  • Fintip
    April 13, 2012 - 15:55

    Who do you think you're kidding Smith - of course you're a government shill. I don't care whether you're one of the party faithful, an employee of a PR firm, or simply a guy making a few bucks on the side. Every time you open your mouth it is a nauseating repetition of the talking points prepared by NALCOR and government. When the talking points stopped doing it for you many months ago, you turned your hand to character assassination. In your book anyone who questions this boondoggle either has an axe to grind or is a lunatic - your words. That includes highly respected people who have given much to this province, including David Vardy, Ron Penney, Cabot Martin, Brian Peckford, and Dr. John Collins. Whoever you are, you're a sleaze. Your reply this morning to a letter to the editor from Leonard Clarke was that people like that "ooze out from under the manure". When Wangersky wrote yesterday about "Caustic Comments', he could have been talking about you. You add nothing to intelligent debate on this forum. What you have done, which of course is the job you took on, is to deter ordinary people from speaking out. Incidentally Smith, the Romaine River project costs the same as Muskrat but will deliver twice the amount of power - and that power will travel to markets on Hydro Quebec's existing grid.

  • John Smith
    April 13, 2012 - 15:40

    So maurice now you can predict the future?LOL Right now today in Maine they are paying 14.5 cents a KWH at their house in US dollars...that is a fact. You are speculating about what the price will be in the future? Not to mention what does the wholesale price of electricity in the U S have to do with us here on this Island? Unless you can come up with the costs associated with trans shipment of pressurized LNG, including storage, and regassification, and many, many more expensive issues, then how can it be debated? I can say I think there will be salt water powered generators in every home by 2020, but does that make it so? Why are we even talking about gas when we have access to one of the best hydro generating developments in NA? It just makes no logical sense whatsoever.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 13, 2012 - 15:13

    It is time for Ed Martin and Nalcor to darn well walk the talk and start acting like a publicly owned company (owned by you and me --- the shareholders) and tell us that he will shelve this massive, over-priced, unaffordable hydro-electric project and explain to all of us how Nalcor is going to take advantage of this paradigm shift in the energy and electricity generation sector...... As a Newfoundlander and shareholder, I expect Ed Martin/Nalcor and government to work on my behalf and on behalf of my neighbours, my community, my children and grand-children ---- not to drive up my rates, ignore, downplay and dismiss what is happening worldwide due to the massive quantities of natural gas that is now available and that is driving an energy and economic revolution in the U.S., Canada and worldwide........ What is happening here is a travesty, a total disrespect for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and a discredit to this great province ---- a province that has already been down this road in the 1960's ---- and do not need to be on the receiving end of another debacle --- the 2nd time around.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 13, 2012 - 14:35

    The U.S. will be a net exporter of natural gas by 2016, and is expected to triple its exports within 3 years after that. Natural gas now bringing wholesale electricity prices in the U.S. down to 2-3 cents per KWh. The only ones not benefiting are those utilities that have been locked into "take or pay" contracts like Muskrat Falls/Nalcor plans for us for the next 50 or more years.

  • John Smith
    April 13, 2012 - 14:18

    Fintip, I am not a government shill. i am in no way associated with the PC party of NL, or Nalcor. Just an ordinary citizen who wants to bring a little truth and clarity to this issue. You, and others of your ilk have an agenda. I know this because you fill your rant with lies, innuendo, and make beleive scenarios. I do not. Mr. Martin and others have come out and publicly stated that this project does not need the loan guarantee from the federal government, and that guarantee was not costed into the deal. They have also come out and said that this development is not dependant on the emera part of the deal, and that was, as well, not costed into the deal. So, that takes care of those two lies. We are currently paying 17 cents a KWH to produce power at Holyrood. We pay about 13-14 cents a KWH when you factor in the adjusment formula. So, it is not 50% more, it's actally less than 35%. That takes care of another lie. The Romaine project is expected to cost around 7 billion dollars, while the muskrat falls deal will cost 7 billion dollars...minus the 2 billion from Emera...which equals 4 billion dollars. So, how is 4 billion twice as much as 7 billion?? Yet another lie. I could go on, but your non-sensical, inane ranting makes me a little ill.

  • Fintip
    April 13, 2012 - 12:39

    Martin's comments are at odds with those made by Dunderdale when she pledged that additional information on the alternatives would be presented to the House for debate. Without that information, members of the legislature and the public are being asked to compare something with nothing. Dwight Ball had asked for detailed studies on wind, natural gas, and small hydro as a means of transitioning to Upper Churchill power in 2041. Martin's response that engineering studies for these options comparable to Muskrat planning would be very expensive. Of course they would, but that's not what is being asked for. These alternatives need to be detailed to the DG2 stage and not, as Ball points out, 'back of a napkin' as belatedly submitted to the PUB. Indeed the study of alternatives needs to be carried out by someone other than NALCOR which has already demonstrated a deliberate bias by skewing the assumptions and costs relating to those alternatives to the point where any side by side comparison is meaningless. Martin is also having problems with the loan guarantee and the deal with Emera. He isn't sure whether these will be in place before sanction of the project. Nor, according to Martin, are all the assumptions regarding the project being shared with the financial institutions that will be asked to finance it. This is preposterous on both counts. Government cannot, or at least should not, sanction a project without those two critical pieces of information and any refusal to provide all the necessary detail to the bankers would prompt them to either walk away or to demand a higher risk premium. Among the things the House should be demanding is a much more detailed and reliable forecast of demand on-island and in Labrador with a breakdown of residential and industrial usage. If current projections regarding industrial growth in Labrador are to be believed, then two-thirds of the Muskrat output could be deployed in Labrador - obviating the usefulness of any intertie with the island and certainly pre-empting any need for a deal with Emera. There is a growing suspicion that ordinary homeowners in this province are being asked to accept an enormous hike in residential electrical rates - in effect, as a subsidy to these planned new industrial developments. That is bad enough, but even more disturbing is that as taxpayers we will also be saddled with a huge increase in our public debt - likely a doubling or more - that quite separate from sky high utility bills will have nasty long-term implications for the economic well being of this province. While government shills like John Smith keep ranting about this being better than being held captive to the price of oil, the fact is that oil would have to reach $200 a barrel and stay there to make this project in any way feasible. Even without the expected cost overruns, Muskrat is already twice as expensive as Hydro Quebec's ongoing Romaine River development. The other important thing for the House to examine closely is the detailed financing arrangement. Will the loan period be the same as the amortization period - 57 years? If not, then we are taking on an interest rate risk that could prove fatal. There was a time not so many years ago that mortgage rates approached 20%. Imagine this province trying to renegotiate an extension on the Muskrat loans 30 years from now with that kind of hyper-inflation in the economy. Think of the damage it could do to a province with a per capita debt twice that of the national average and an economy no longer buoyed by significant oil and gas royalties. Jerome Kennedy has stated that we will initially be paying 16.4 cents a kilowatt hour after Muskrat comes on stream. While that is almost 50% more than we are paying now, it is less than half of what would be needed to amortize a properly configured debt plan for the project. What interest we don't pay in the early years must therefore be added to the loan principal so that the amount could be higher, not lower, when we go to renew. Trying to make sense of this project based on any conventional, reasonable ground rules is virtually impossible. To make Muskrat even remotely plausible, NALCOR has had to distort or contort every known principle of economics and finance used to evaluate such projects.

  • John Smith
    April 13, 2012 - 12:17

    Cyril, this project was never, never, never...(maybe if I say it really slowly)... N E V E R...supposed to make money. It was a way to provide the necessary improvements to our power supply, so we could meet requirements. That is why the Emera part of the deal was never costed in...that is pure gravy. The financials of Muskrat never included the up to 400 million a year we could get for spot market power sales. This was, and is a development for our power needs in this province...not as a means to make profit. Just goes to show how ignorant some of the naysayers are.

    • Mis Information
      April 15, 2012 - 19:20

      John, If the entire annual generation was sold on the spot market there would be less than 200 million in revenue. 4,900,000 MWhr annual production. 40 $ per MWh is the benchmark in New England (Google New England ISO) This is 196 million in revenue less any money will will have to pay Emera for Transmission. Yes I forgot that we have to give emera 20% of this generation, so the potential revenue for export is now 157 million minus any transmission cost we must also pay to emera. Go to RFI KPL 27. The annual financial committment to MF plus the LIL is 400 million minimum and escalating into the future due to the back loaded PPA. This is why there are so many people concerned about this project. It is no longer 2006, shale gas has changed everything. Make no mistake this project is being developed on the backs of the Newfoundland rate payer. It would be acceptable if it was the cheapest source for energy, but the work has not been done to establish that it is. So as the excavators work clearing the site in Labrador we are still completing fundamental option screening exercise. It is an incredible situation that we find ourselves in.

  • William Daniels
    April 13, 2012 - 11:30

    Why wasn't the PUB given the full details? MR should be shown the gate period.

  • Cyril Rogers
    April 13, 2012 - 11:21

    I don't disrespect Mr. Martin but I do believe he is under direction to advance this project ahead of any other, simply because Danny wants his legacy. The whole energy field has changed rapidly with the rapid growth of the shale gas industry and has thorwn a complete monkey wrench into all of NALCOR and the government's early projections. They were off target then and they are way off target now. Yes, John Smith, I know there are environmental issues with shale gas but it will not be stopped so we have to factor it in whether we like it or not. This project, as envisioned, can never make any money and will be a financial albatross for future generations.

  • sealcove
    April 13, 2012 - 10:10

    Why is it taking so long to show the whole picture, I think we all know the answer to that one

  • John Smith
    April 13, 2012 - 08:46

    I have immense respect and admiration for Mr. Martin. We are all very fortuate that we have someone with his intellect and experience guiding this project. The people at Nalcor, highly educated, and experienced in all forms of generating electricity looked at wind, which any sane person can easily see is not a viable stand alone resource. They also looked at gas, and quickly saw that the resource is simply not there to support the major infrastructure needed. It would be like if we proposed building the dam at muskrat, knowing that the water would eventually stop flowing...just doesn't make sense.So now Dwight wants us to spend more money and time on these two red herrings? Why? We know wind energy cannot be stored, perhaps when we get the line across the gulf we can start to persue wind, but not as a stand alone resource. If you want to see why gas will not work, look no further than the Sable Island gas project. Billions of dollars in offshore infrastructure, billions of dollars in onshore infrastructure, for a resource that will still pollute, and eventually run out? Dwight is simply trying to make political hay out of something that is so important to this province...it is petty, small, and vidictive...and sad. Sure Dwight, cast aside all the experts and commision more million dollar studies...it's not your money you are spending.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 13, 2012 - 07:38

    So much for having all the needed information before debate and sanctioning. It looks like government will not likely have final financial guarantee and legal agreements to inform the debate and sanctioning decision. Unbelievable. ---- But then again I guess we can rely on Manitoba Hydro to make the right decision for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.