Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy won’t extend the Public Utilities Board’s deadline on the proposed Muskrat Falls review because he wants it in the House of Assembly for the spring sitting.
“We need the report March 31. The premier has clearly indicated she wants the opportunity for debate in the House of Assembly,” Kennedy told The Telegram Wednesday.
He said there was no opportunity to debate the Upper Churchill deal in the House of Assembly in the 1960s, as the deal was negotiated under the gun with Quebec having the upper hand.
When Public Utilities Board chairman Andy Wells wrote Kennedy to ask to extend the deadline on the review of the hydroelectric development, he said it can’t properly be done sooner due to untimely filings by Nalcor.
“Unfortunately, I must advise that it is not possible for this review to be completed any earlier than the end of June 2012,” Wells said in the letter.
Kennedy said because of the points made by Wells, government has had a frank discussion with Nalcor and a direction has been given to file information faster so the PUB can do its job within the March 31 timeframe.
He noted the PUB has engaged Manitoba Hydro International to do an independent consultant’s report to be completed by late January and will be key in helping the PUB file its report.
Kennedy had already extended the deadline from Dec. 31 to March 31.
But Wells says that’s simply not enough time.
“The full and fair participation of the consumer advocate as well as the public hearing required by Sect. 5 of the Electrical Power Control Act … will dictate the schedule until late spring and it is only then that the board can begin to write its report,” Wells wrote.
“As you note in your letter, this matter is of fundamental importance to the province. Given the magnitude of the capital costs, the complex technical nature of the information to be considered, and the significance of the matter for the island interconnected electrical system and the province in general, the board must ensure a full and comprehensive review with full opportunity to the consumer advocate and other interested persons to participate.”
The review began in June, but Nalcor is still filing significant information, Wells said in his letter.
“This new information is now being reviewed and assessed and additional requests for information will be issued so that Manitoba Hydro International Ltd. can finalize its report and we can begin the public consultation process,” he wrote.
The PUB asked consumer advocate Tom Johnson for his input and Johnson responded to the board that he’s still waiting for replies from Nalcor.
“This is all to underline the point that the consumer advocate, in light of the very recent filings and the filings yet to be made and hopefully disclosed by way of certain critical confidential exhibits, is quite concerned that there be reasonable timelines established that afford to the consumer advocate and his consultants an appropriate amount of time to receive and conclude a review of the evidence, ask appropriate questions, receive and review the responses (hopefully responses that are responsive to the question) and prepare a report,” Johnson wrote, adding the board’s assertion June is the earliest possible timeline is realistic.
Johnson told The Telegram he just wants a process that’s workable and is waiting to see what the timeline will look like with the March 31 deadline. But he said there may have to be compromises and part of the process taken off the table.
“You can’t do everything you would be able to do if you had another three months,” Johnson said.
“By definition, we’ve got to take a hard look at the extension date to March 31, how that impacts on the ground, what processes can be done.
“It’s a big, complicated piece of work. It has not been possible as of yet for a sensible schedule to be set down.”
Kennedy said there may be a misunderstanding about the consumer advocate’s role, and he intends to clarify it.
“The role of the consumer advocate is to ensure the interest of ratepayers are looked after and concerns are brought to the attention of the PUB,” he said.
“It’s not my understanding the role of the consumer advocate is to conduct a separate inquiry or to embark upon a joint venture with the PUB.”
Wells could not be reached for comment.