Leaders should debate Muskrat Falls

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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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.


Organizations: Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Super 8 hotel Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Quebec

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 29, 2011 - 20:23

    KEN, as the old saying goes ---- "When you are unable to address the message, attack the messenger".

  • Ken
    September 29, 2011 - 14:38

    Maurice E. Adams, thanks for the honesty. As I thought, you have no experience in this area. Finance is not just addition, subtraction and multiplication. If it was, everyone would be able to do it. (You should do a finance course at a University.) I'm sure you'll continue to believe that you are an expert. You are not. You have just told us that you have no credentials.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 29, 2011 - 12:09

    The only credentials I need KEN is to be a citizen of this great province, to be a shareholder of Nalcor, and to have an open mind. If you don't have the latter --- you nothing, no matter your credentials.

  • Ken
    September 28, 2011 - 18:48

    Maurice E. Adams, you have ignored my question. Have you heard of the spot-market in New England? Most likely, you have not. The electricity trade is New England is unique. Unless, of course, you have worked in this industry. Do you have any credentials? Where have you worked before? What is your background? What is your alternative to this plan? I'm not asking you for the same numbers that you always give us. I'd like direct answers to these questions. If you have no credentials, I'll listen to Jim Prentice instead.

  • roy
    September 28, 2011 - 15:05

    Yes lets listen to the Three Brains they know it all, wait for 30 years negotiate with Quebec who owns the power lines, who will have their own source of power to sell and replace NL power, maybe by then they will have bought out NS and NB power co,s cutting us off again as they tried a few Mts ago . They will again hold the upper hand as they did with the upper churchill, so we will have to accept what they will offer.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 28, 2011 - 13:45

    YES KEN. If I recall correctly, Ms. Henley stated in her letter that she relied on Nalcor's "updated 2010 forecast" which predicted our demand for 2010 to be 1,519 MW. +++++++++ Perhaps she should have read Nalcor's Annual Report (which says that our 'peak demand' for the last 5 years has averaged only 1,330 MW, and for year 2010 it was down to 1,305 MW). ++++++++ Nalcor's forecast model therefore (even looking just 1 year ahead) is predicting demand that is 214 MW too high. ++++++++++ Nalcor then uses this flawed prediction to 'forecast' that we need more capacity by year 2015. ++++++++ If you apply Nalcor's forecast model to year 2010's 'actual' demand (instead of their predicted demand of 1,519 MW), you will see that we don't need additional capacity until year 2028 (not 2015). ++++++++ Let me just conclude by saying that "Nalcor's forecasts are no substitute for the facts". I will take the side of the facts any day over unreliable and misleading forecasts. ------ and 'credentials' have nothing to do with it.

  • Ken
    September 28, 2011 - 12:48

    Maurice E. Adams, you should refer to Janet Henley's response latest response to your last letter in The Telegram. She has plenty of experience in this area. What are your credentials? Where have you worked before?

  • Expets Not Politicians Should Debate Muskrat
    September 28, 2011 - 11:42

    None of the party leaders has the education or experience to explain the Muskrat project. There should be a debate by financial experts. What will this project cost the citizen consumer? Will our electrical bills rise and by how much? Only then can the public make an informed opinion.

  • lonenewfwolf
    September 28, 2011 - 09:16

    again...an open review of the legislation covering nalcor and our water resources is also sorely needed, williams changed both signifigantly. the council of canadians should be brought into the discussion as it pertains to cross canada issues. also missing from the debate is the issue of snc-lavalin is being investigated for corruption as well right now by the rcmp, and that should be raising more than a few eyebrows.... more indepth reporting please.

  • Eugene
    September 28, 2011 - 07:39

    The Lower Churchill has been thought about, talked about, and negotiated for over 40 years. It is time to "roll up our sleeves" and make it happen - not for my sake or our generation, but for the sake of the future, our children and grandchildren.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    September 28, 2011 - 07:35

    Nalcor says we urgently need additional power because Vale's Long Harbour plant will bring a huge increase in demand. ++++++++++ Vale's new plant will need 4.5% (four and one half) percent of our already existing NET capacity when it is operating at capacity years from now. ++++++++ Never mind that our demand has gone DOWN more than 15% over the last 6 years. ++++++++ For the last 6 years more than 30% (about 630 MW) of our existing net capacity of 1,958 MW has gone UNUSED. +++++++ So, with Muskrat Falls we are to go in debt BILLIONS of dollars to add 330 MW of more UNUSED power to our existing 630 MW of UNUSED power. Make sense? +++++++ So, we have no U.S market for the 40% of power left over, no market for the 40% Nalcor is bringing to the island, and we are giving the other 20% to Nova Scotia --- entirely subsidized by Newfoundland taxpayers and ratepayers.