Muskrat Falls review on fast track

Barb Sweet
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Consultations to be held in St. John’s only

Jerome Kennedy — File photo

Public consultations for those who want to chat up the Public Utilities Board (PUB) review of the Muskrat Falls proposal may end up resembling speed dating.

The PUB has told Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy it has had to scale down the consultations, among other things, in order to meet a March 31 deadline to have its report done. The consultations on the review of the proposed hydroelectric project will now be offered only in St. John’s and time limits may be imposed.

There will be no technical conference.

The PUB had envisioned an extensive review on Muskrat Falls similar to one conducted on automobile insurance rates in  2005.

In the ongoing drama over the review, PUB chairman Andy Wells and Kennedy have exchanged new letters.

The review process is set to take an interesting turn with little time left.

Not much time to get work done … Continued from page A1

“You can say that again,” Wells told The Telegram Monday.

The PUB had hoped to have its deadline extended to June, because of delays getting information from Nalcor.

Kennedy has said he can’t move the deadline because he wants the PUB report in time for the spring sitting of the House of Assembly.

So that leaves the PUB — which is expecting a report from outside expert Manitoba Hydro Inc. (MHI) this month — with little time left for everything else.

“We don’t want to make anybody’s life difficult, but we’ve got that March 31 sword hanging over our heads,” Wells told The Telegram.

Wells blames the problem squarely on Nalcor. And he said not only has Nalcor dragged its feet on filling information requests from both the PUB and consumer advocate Tom Johnson, but the documents have not been updated beyond December 2010, while costs, fuel forecasts and other aspects have most likely changed.

The December 2010 date is the time at which Decision Gate 2 took place on the Muskrat Falls process and the PUB was then given its terms of reference. Nalcor has been gathering information since that time for Decision Gate 3 — the time at which the project gets final sanction, if that happens.

Opposition Leader Dwight Ball told The Telegram it’s shocking the consultations have been restricted and there will be no technical review.

Ball said many knowledgeable people have been looking forward to what will likely be their only opportunity to give public input. He said it won’t be thorough if it’s restricted to only St. John’s.

Opposition energy critic Yvonne Jones, agreeing people across the island and in Labrador should have an opportunity to comment, called Nalcor irresponsible and Kennedy reckless, adding she’d rather see a proper process than a review rushed for the House.

She said she didn’t have a lot of confidence early on for the PUB review to be totally unbiased and now she has less confidence because of the rush.

“The government of the day is looking at signing away major resources and a major development on behalf of the people of the province,” Jones said, adding the least it can do is give the PUB proper time.

If Nalcor suddenly comes through with all the information, it may raise even more questions for the PUB.

“I wish they would have flooded us in June,” Wells said.

“One of the problems we had from Nalcor aside from their being untimely was the incomplete nature of their replies,” Wells said. “We’re not doing this for the sake of being perverse or tormenting Nalcor. These are questions that the experts are advising us are necessary to be asked.”

The PUB is not in charge of the review process — Natural Resources sets the timelines.

MHI is to have a draft report done by late next week. The PUB will reply to that and Wells hopes to make public MHI’s final report the last week of January.

Wells said the PUB then has to give notice on public hearings and allow people to digest the report, so that consultation process will come sometime around mid-February.

“We are doing in two weeks what we planned to do in two months,” Wells said.

Nalcor did issue a status report on the information requests late last week.

“Sometime in November after many representations to Nalcor, it was clear we were four months behind because of their inability for whatever reason to provide the comprehensive information we thought was necessary to properly do the job government gave to us,” Wells said.

In his letter to Wells, Kennedy questioned whether the review needs to follow the scope of the auto insurance review.

“That activity was not burdened by the same time sensitivities as the current review,” Kennedy wrote Wells. “Given that the terms of reference are confined to a review of whether Nalcor's proposal represents the least-cost option for the supply of power to island-connected customers, government queries whether all of the processes employed by the board in the insurance review are necessary in the board's review of the reference question.”

Wells told The Telegram officials at the PUB found that process worked well, but it’s government’s right to question it.

“The (insurance) process flowed fairly smoothly. That was kind of the way we were going to approach it. But I mean that requires time,” Wells said.

Kennedy offered Wells additional resources to meet the deadline, but Wells said the PUB has had the resources since June, and the problem remains with Nalcor.

Kennedy said in his letter he’s issued new guidelines to Johnson.

Kennedy was unvailable Monday, but his office indicated he would comment today.

Nalcor said it has been busy filing information as best it can, but new requests keep coming in.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, Manitoba Hydro, The Telegram Monday.The PUB House of Assembly.So

Geographic location: Decision Gate, Labrador

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Recent comments

  • John Smith
    January 10, 2012 - 20:27

    Yes maurice b'y your right, why would we ever need electricity here, why would we ever want to grow our economy, or look to the future. You are right Maurice, lets pull the covers up over our heads, and turn up the electric heat, forget about everything else. Just keep paying our ever increasing bills, watch the smoke billow from the stacks at holyrood, watch the rest of the coutry prosper...yeah, your right Maurice, why would we ever want a green never ending supply of energy...makes way too much sense.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    January 10, 2012 - 13:47

    Early on, this project was being sold, largely, on the basis that by doing Muskrat Falls we could get around Quebec for the sale of Labrador power. When that was shown for what it was, the argument shifted more so that we needed the power on the island. Now that that has been shown to be very questionable, the argument has shifted to that Labrador needs the power. Something smells. If Labrador needs the power, then why ship it to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia? There is no legitimate need for this project.

  • Calvin
    January 10, 2012 - 10:59

    Well said John Smith. People are fickle and gullible. The opposition says the deal is bad for Newfoundland, so it must be true. Rates are increasing 7.7% this year, and you are correct they have increased by over 60% in under 15 years. Rates are going to continue to climb. When oil starts to run out, rates will skyrocket. We have the money and the means to build the thing now, so it should be done. People need to ignore the fact that our bills will increase to pay for the construction of the hydro generating station and look to the future. But they wont, they will cry because of the gimme gimme gimme mentality of the common Newfoundlander, ignoring the extraordinary thing we could do right now for generations to come.

  • Tony Tory
    January 10, 2012 - 08:56

    I voted PC in the past 3 elections and would probably do it again if a election was held today but do not treat us like we are stupid Mr Kennedy and Wells. This is an important project for the province and the public needs information. I can honestly tell you that if my light bill has to double to pay for this project you guys are out of your minds. A public consultation process would bring more information to the taxpayers. Finally, don't you ever forget who appointed the members to the Public Utilities Board Mr. Kennedy. They are PC appointments that your crowd made and now appears cannot get the work done.

  • Willi Makit
    January 10, 2012 - 08:48

    In a decision of this magnitude that will commit us for decades, I'm confused by the false urgency that Kennedy is placing on it. What's the rush? It's not as if the river is going anywhere. What's that saying? Act in haste, repent at leisure.

  • Bill
    January 10, 2012 - 08:32

    Minister Kennedy is taking a page out of the Federal book as he is willing to push the consultations to the shortest possible timeframe so as to avoid any meaningful discussion. While I believe that the development of our hydro resources should be of the utmost priority, this Muskrat deal appears to be getting pushed through without the appropriate level of analysis and debate. And we all know that the debate in the House, if it ever opens, will be limited as Government has the majority power to limit debate.

  • Maurice Rogers
    January 10, 2012 - 08:14

    So they want in time for the Spring session, why? I'm sure they'd be quite happy to keep the house closed if they could.

  • lonenewfwolf
    January 10, 2012 - 08:03

    people need to consider the consequences of getting into these huge resource deals with so little financial leverage, public disclosure and legislative oversight. also, who may be waiting for it to go belly-up. gull island is a much larger project and the the obvious choice for backing is hydro quebec, snc-lavalin, ontario hydro etc. the project at muskrat will already double our public debt at the low-ball estimates, what will gull island cost and who will back it?

  • John Smith
    January 10, 2012 - 07:57

    What I don't understand is the fact that we have already had extensive public consultations. They had a group go to every nook and cranny in the province, from St. John's to Nain. Why would we want to go through that again? Why should the taxpayer have to foot the bill for yet more meetings with people who don't have a clue? People who don't want to understand the project. They only know they don't want it. They don't care that our bills have gone up by 60% since 1998, and will go up a further 7 % this summer, they went up 7%last summer. Nope, that doesn't matter. They don't care that there are no other viable methods besides Muskrat, especially for our tiny population, which makes gas and other methods non-sensical.They don't care that the deal with Emera has nothing to do with subsidizing power, but gives us a great opportunity to pay for a much needed connection to the mainland, with power we won't need for the immediate future. Nope, they don't care about any of that. Imagine if government came out in "98 and said 2011 your bills will increase by 60%. There would be people going off the head. Yet, that has happened. Does anyone really think being tied to oil is the way to go. Keep buying oil for an aging polluting oil fired generator? Sure, if you want bills to go on forever going up. Or, we could have a development that will be green, provide stabal rates, provide a connection to the mainalnd, and allow us to make a small amout of money selling the excess till we have a need for it. Andy wells is posturing, and that's sad. Wade Locke has come out in support of the project, and he is having a meeting about the project next week to answer questions. How many times must we answer these questions? The naysayers will never, never, never be satisfied...that's just the way it is. Too bad.

  • Dosak
    January 10, 2012 - 07:40

    These articles about Nalcor are incredibly one sided. Why are we only hearing from the opposing forces against Nalcor. How about the telegram interviews some Nalcor reps to defend these bogus claims?