With tight timelines to produce the Muskrat Falls review by March 31, an upcoming report by outside expert Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) is the focal point of the process, says the province’s consumer advocate.
“I think I would have preferred more time. The (Public Utilities) board would have preferred more time. However, government has indicated there is not further time because they want to have the matter brought before the House of Assembly where elected people can debate the issue,” Tom Johnson told The Telegram Tuesday.
“The central focus is on the Manitoba Hydro International report, which should be a very thorough report, I would expect.”
The Public Utilities Board (PUB) has told Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy that as part of its review of the proposed hydroelectric project, the public consultations will be restricted to St. John’s, there may be time limits and there will be no technical conference.
MHI’s report is to be completed by the end of January, and the PUB’s report to government by March 31.
Kennedy has also given new guidelines to Johnson.
Kennedy was not available for comment Tuesday, but Premier Kathy Dunderdale reiterated it’s important the PUB report be brought before the House of Assembly during the spring session.
“The first tranche of time that we gave the PUB, we felt that was adequate, and as you know, there’s been an extension,” Dunderdale said, referring to the fact Kennedy had already extended the review deadline from Dec. 31 to March 31.
The PUB then made a request to extend the deadline to the end of June.
“We’re going to have the Manitoba Hydro report at the end of this month, and that is the critical component of the PUB review. You’ve heard all of the discussion that has come from opposition parties about opening of the House and having an opportunity to discuss issues,” Dunderdale said.
She said the Opposition Liberals and the NDP can use their allotted budget debate time to talk about Muskrat Falls and the PUB report.
“Because the budget is a money bill, you can discuss anything under the sun,” Dunderdale said.
PUB chairman Andy Wells, blames the time crunch for the review squarely on Nalcor. And he has said not only has Nalcor dragged its feet on filing information requests from both the PUB and Johnson, but the documents have not been updated beyond December 2010, while costs 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.
The PUB had envisioned an extensive review on Muskrat Falls similar to one conducted on automobile insurance rates in 2005.
Johnson said while there is less opportunity for full participation, MHI and the PUB have been asking Nalcor extensive questions and there have been some updates as well as a reflection of the federal government loan guarantee in Nalcor’s submissions.
“Other than that I think the information will not be updated before Decision Gate 3,” Johnson said.
“I think the up-to-date figures will obviously be something the government will want to have at its disposal I think. The board is signalling they would like to have at their disposal too.”
Johnson said it would have been better to have the most current details.
“Presumably government will have the up-to-date figures when it goes to make its sanction decision,” he said.