The provincial government moved decisively to extinguish any doubt about the Muskrat Falls development Monday, after the province’s Public Utilities Board (PUB) refused to certify it as the lowest cost option for electricity.
In the wake of the PUB report, Premier Kathy Dunderdale promised added study of natural gas and wind as options for electricity generation, and vowed to call a summer sitting of the House of Assembly to debate the Muskrat Falls project.
At the same time, though, Dunderdale called out the PUB saying they “wasted $2 million” by reviewing the Muskrat Falls project and refusing to say whether or not it was a good project.
“They don’t disagree with us on the Muskrat Falls project,” Dunderdale said. “After nine months and $2 million, they refuse to make a recommendation.”
Late Friday, the PUB formally delivered its report on the Muskrat Falls project to the government. The board had been tasked with deciding whether Muskrat Falls is a cheaper source of electricity than an isolated island alternative.
The information it was given by Nalcor to assess the project mostly dates back to November 2010, when Nalcor passed its Decision Gate 2 and proceeded with planning of the project.
Later this year, the government is expected to pass through Decision Gate 3 and decide whether to formally sanction the project and proceed with development and construction.
In its report, the PUB said it couldn’t certify that the project is the cheapest electricity option based on the November 2010 numbers, because they’re vague and amount to not much more than a feasibility study of the Muskrat Falls project.
“In conclusion, the information which was made available during the review was considerably less detailed and comprehensive than the information that Nalcor has today and will have at Decision Gate 3,” the PUB wrote. “The board concludes that the information provided by Nalcor in the review is not detailed, complete or current enough to determine whether (Muskrat Falls) represents the least-cost option for the supply of power.”
Dunderdale said this is a change of tune for the board.
The government has said all along that its decision gate three sanctioning information wouldn’t be compiled until some time in June.
In December, board chairman Andy Wells asked for a three-month extension to give them to the end of June to complete the report. At the time, Wells said they needed more time to do more public consultations to properly assess the two options.
“What’s even more puzzling to me is that at the end of December, they came to us and asked for a six-month extension for public consultation. That’s all,” she said. “You need to ask them why, at the end of December, why they only asked for an extension to the end of June knowing full well that the sanctioning numbers were only going to be available in June.”
The government refused to give the PUB the extension at the time, saying that it was important to have time to debate Muskrat Falls in the House of Assembly.
Monday, Dunderdale said because the PUB didn’t endorse or reject Muskrat Falls, the government will chart a new course.
Dunderdale announced that the government has hired Manitoba Hydro International to do a full assessment of Nalcor’s decision gate three numbers in June. Then, she said all of that information will be made public and the House of Assembly will be called back for a special session to debate the project.
There will be some sort of formal motion, and MHAs will vote on whether or not the province should proceed with the project.
Up until now Dunderdale has said that there’s no need for dedicated debate on Muskrat Falls because MHAs could talk about it during the spring’s debate on the budget.
To mollify the opposition parties, Dunderdale said that the government will also be doing a formal study on natural gas, which the Liberals have been saying is a viable option that has never been considered.
Wind power, which the NDP has been championing, will also get another look.
The government has said up until now that these options are so obviously not viable that they didn’t need formal study.
The PUB will not get to reassess the project based on decision gate three numbers.
Dunderdale said it’s “frustrating” that people don’t Nalcor’s expertise in rejecting wind and natural gas.
“There are things we know about wind. There are things we know about natural gas,” Dunderdale said. “The minster in his wisdom has seen it in its wisdom to ask Ziff (Energy) in terms of natural gas to do a study and we’ll provide that information so that if anybody is concerned about the source, you know, we’ve gone to somebody completely independent.”
The opposition parties welcomed the moves by Dunderdale Monday, but Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said Dunderdale was “absolutely shameful” for attacking the PUB.
“This is the government that rigged the rules of the game, and still lost the game and don’t like the result of it,” Parsons said.
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said that the government is really just giving in to public demand for a full debate.
“The pressure has been mounting over the last months,” she said. “The government can no longer deny what’s being said out there, and they have finally given into the pressure.”