Premier Kathy Dunderdale speaks to the media outside the House of Assembly on Tuesday afternoon on the ongoing debate about the Muskrat Falls energy project. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Tuesday morning, the big guns came out in defence of Muskrat Falls.
Former premier Danny Williams publicly attacked the province's Public Utilities Board (PUB), and renewed his support for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
“When I read the report brought down by the PUB, I was deeply disappointed in the indecisive nature of the report; and more so I was troubled by the conclusions put forward by the board largely based on opinions of private citizens as opposed to the experts at Nalcor and Manitoba Hydro,” Williams said in a news release.
“I have a serious concern that the PUB quotes extensively the personal opinions of former bureaucrats and academia, while ignoring the world-class experts at Nalcor.”
Williams has been largely silent since he resigned from office, shortly after signing the deal to develop the Muskrat Falls project.
On Monday, the government released the PUB report which said that outdated, preliminary numbers on the Muskrat Falls project weren't good enough.
The board said after studying data provided by Nalcor, and assessed by the consultant they hired, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI), it couldn't say for certain whether Muskrat Falls is the cheapest option for electricity.
In the wake of the report being released Monday, Premier Kathy Dunderdale moved to bolster support for the project.
Once the province has all of its most up-to-date information on the project in June, she said, the government will make that information public and get MHI to study it.
Once MHI makes its final report, Dunderdale promised she would call back MHAs and open the House of Assembly for a debate on the issue.
Tuesday afternoon all three parties promised it would be a free vote.
Dunderdale said Tuesday that her confidence in the PUB — the province's independent, quasi-judicial utilities regulator — had been “undermined” in that they refused to say whether Muskrat Falls is the best option for electricity.
At the same time, opposition politicians were crying foul, as it became clear the government won't be doing studies on natural gas and wind power.
Monday, Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy said he had asked for Calgary-based Ziff Energy to look at natural gas.
“We have indicated that we will provide studies on natural gas and wind, Mr. Speaker,” Kennedy said.
On Tuesday, Dunderdale indicated that the work being done “is not a study, it is a report” and that Ziff has already made it clear to Kennedy that they don't believe natural gas is the best option.
“When the minister met with Ziff, and they laid out clearly that natural gas is not an option here, I said to the minster, can we get them to do a report?” Dunderdale said. “Because if we get somebody from away to say it, maybe these people will accept it.”
That didn't sit well with NDP Leader Lorraine Michael.
“What the premier promised in the House (Monday) would be that there would be studies done with regard to the alternatives, and she named wind and she named gas,” she said.
Both Dunderdale and Williams said too much credence is being given critics with no credentials, while the “world-class” expertise at Nalcor is being ignored.
During question period in the House, Ball pushed for the PUB to get another chance to look at the project after all the final numbers have been drawn up in June. Dunderdale made it clear that's not going to happen.
Ball pointed out that the cost estimates the PUB was working from were very rough, and refined estimates could be up to 50 per cent higher or 30 per cent lower.
“To me, that's a back-of-the-envelope type budget. You can't use that for financing. So I think the people of the province and the PUB in this case, they have a right to know how much this project is going to cost,” Ball said. “I was more comfortable with Muskrat Falls a year ago than I am today, simply because of all the questions that are coming forward.