Three men with backgrounds in power generation and negotiation held a news conference at the Super 8 hotel in St. John’s Tuesday to raise questions about the provincial government’s plans to develop Muskrat Falls. Lawyers Dennis Browne (left) and Edward Hearn (right) have both appeared before the Public Utilities Board in the past. Richard Cashin (centre) is a former MP and union president. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
Three men who have delved into the numbers on the Muskrat Falls project are calling for the provincial government and Nalcor Energy to reconsider alternatives. They also want provincial party leaders to have a debate solely on Lower Churchill development prior to the Oct. 11 election.
Richard Cashin, president of the fisheries union and a Liberal MP for St. John’s West in the 1960s; Edward Hearn, a lawyer in Lab-rador City and a former director of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro; and Dennis Browne, a lawyer in St. John’s and former Consumer Advocate, held their news conference Tuesday morning at the Super 8 hotel in St. John’s.
They asked the province’s political leaders to state their commitment to a special energy debate during the already scheduled televised leaders debate tonight.
“I think the public has the right to have a much more thorough discussion,” Cashin said.
He said the Muskrat Falls project and overall plan for the Lower Churchill is “the most significant” issue facing the province. He pointed to the risk being taken on by provincial taxpayers and questioned the ability for the project to remain on budget.
“I’m more likely to give birth than that is to happen,” he said, going on to say a 30, 40 or even 50 per cent overrun “is not at all impossible.”
Hearn called the economics of the project, with the risk of an overrun, “dangerous.” He raised the subject of the impact on the power bills of the people of the province.
“We’ve heard nothing about rate payers’ affordability,” he said, slamming the Dunderdale government and Nalcor for a deal that, he said, gives away power to Nova Scotia for the next 35 years.
He questioned what rising rates, to the level predicted with project costs, are going to do to the province’s ability to attract and maintain business interests and industry.
Browne, meanwhile, said the focus of the government today needs to be on the impacts on the people here today and in the immediate future, rather than benefits “50 years” down the road.
The three men challenged that the provincial government hasn’t proven an increase in energy demand in-province in the future. They also challenged the availability of markets for the excess power outside of the province being produced by the hydro project.
As for what other options might be available, “no one has really advocated strongly conservation,” Browne said. He pointed to a Quebec experiment with time of day rates and “smart grid” concepts (a type of grid that attempts to predict and react to the needs of grid end users, in order to avoid energy waste).
The trio advocated using existing power generators here on the island, supplemented by smaller projects, until the agreement on power from the Upper Churchill dam is renegotiated in 2041. At that time, the cheap, excess Churchill power might be brought to the island, they said.
Yet, whatever the option, all three said they believe there needs to be further public consultation and some method whereby provincial residents could offer their opinion.
The Telegram contacted Nalcor for response and was directed to the Department of Natural Resources. Ultimately, considering the politics involved and the general statements in question, Premier Kathy Dunderdale offered a statement.
“The proposed development has been subject to much discussion and debate over the past several months both inside and outside the legislature, with both Nalcor and the provincial government being very responsive to all questions and requests,” she said.
“The event staged this morning by Mr. Cashin brings no new information to the table for consideration.”
The premier said the project remains a “key component” of the plan to move the province “from an economy based on oil revenues to a renewable future.”
As for adding an energy debate to her pre-election schedule?
“I welcome the opportunity to debate the other party leaders and will do so in the televised debate (tonight), rather than having a separate debate alone on Muskrat,” she said.