Wade Locke, the province’s most recognizable economist, set out to answer a simple question: “Is it worth it?”
Tuesday evening, Locke re-soundingly declared that yes, Muskrat Falls is the best option to meet Newfoundland’s energy needs as the least-cost option.
The public lecture at Memorial University drew a massive crowd; the lecture hall was filled to capacity, and an overflow room set up with a live video of the presentation was also filled.
Provincial MHAs, federal politicians and former premier Roger Grimes all showed up to hear what Locke had to say. The lecture was delayed because organizers were expecting Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie to attend.
Once Locke started speaking, he laid out in technical detail essentially the same argument Nalcor, the project proponent, has been making for more than a year.
Yes, Locke concluded, it’s “reasonable” to believe the province will need the power. Yes, Locke concluded, Muskrat Falls is the cheapest source of that power.
“On the balance of probabilities, it seems reasonable to me to assume that Muskrat Falls is the best option for the province,” Locke said.
Locke has previously declined to comment on the Muskrat Falls project because he has done work for Nalcor, and felt his opinion was compromised.
He said he believed Muskrat was “a good project,” but a report by former Public Utilities Board (PUB) chairman David Vardy released a report which “raised a number of serious questions” in his mind.
“Just to help my own self understand whether or not I had made the right decision about whether this is a good project or a bad project, I went back and had a look at David’s paper,” Locke said. “What you’ll see here tonight is the outcome of that reflection.”
Addressing the critics who have questioned his bias based on his work with Nalcor, Locke said emphatically he values his integrity and reputation more than anything, and his only reason for doing the research was for public information.
Over the course of the lecture, Locke spoke forcefully — shouting at times — as he walked the audience through charts and graphs detailing cost-comparisons, commodity price forecasts and other technical specifics.
He went into extra detail on the option of using natural gas — the option championed by Vardy — but concluded it wasn’t viable either.
Locke’s presentation will likely become a powerful vindication for the government, who has been championing the project. However, he did offer one major point of criticism.
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy has limited the time the PUB has to examine the project. Locke said that is a mistake.
Not extending the public review for the PUB, in my mind, is a problem,” Locke said. “It creates a suspicion that’s unneeded. If they need three more months, give them three more months and let them do it.”
At that point in the lecture, the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
Following his one-hour lecture, Locke took questions from the audience for roughly another hour.
He was questioned about the potential to use wind power and other alternatives to Muskrat Falls, as well as the possibility of using energy conservation to decrease demand.
Locke was forced to decline comment on some questions, saying he isn’t an expert in the engineering. On the conservation questions, he said the kind of reductions in power-usage required would pose an undue hardship on the people of the province.
Speaking to The Telegram after his lecture, Locke said he was surprised by the sheer number of people who showed up; one organizer estimated at least 500 people were in attendance.
“It was impressive,” he said. “It’s certainly more than I have in class.”
Locke’s full presentation will be made publicly available on The Harris Centre’s website, at www.mun.ca/harriscentre/.
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