Dexter drops in for a Muskrat chat

James McLeod
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N.S., N.L. premiers reiterate project is best option

Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her Nova Scotia counterpart Darrell Dexter planned to have a private chat Thursday afternoon about Muskrat Falls.

Officially, the final decision on whether or not to proceed with Muskrat Falls is months away, but in comments following the meeting, Dunderdale and Dexter made it clear that as far as they’re concerned, it’s the only viable option to satiate electricity demand in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

“What’s the alternative? To either ration energy or sit up in the dark. We have to pay for energy.  Where’s the least-cost alternative?” Dunderdale said.

Without any fanfare or public announcement, Dexter arrived in the province Thursday afternoon to talk to Dunderdale about the massive hydroelectric project critical to the electricity demands of both provinces.

When reporters got wind of the meeting, they showed up at Confederation building and staked out the lobby.

Both Dunderdale and Dexter downplayed the significance of the meeting, but it comes at a critical time just before Nalcor draws up final “Decision Gate 3” cost forecasts later this month. The final numbers forecast are what the

government will use to decide whether or not to go ahead with the project.

Dunderdale cautioned the cost estimates are going to be higher than the $6.2-billion price tag originally quoted back when the Muskrat Falls deal was first announced in November 2010.

“The numbers that we’ve been working with are almost two years old, so costs certainly would have changed,” Dunderdale said.

“We’re waiting for decision gate three numbers. I can tell you there’s nothing startling in terms of the information that we’ve had so far. There’s nothing unexpected or nothing to panic about.”

Dexter said he’s worried about the cost overruns, but he’s still standing by the project.

“Whenever costs go up there’s always a concern, and you always take that into account,” he said. “As the costs associated with this project are drilled down and we found out more about them, the same would be true for the alternatives.”

Nova Scotia currently gets a large chunk of its power from coal plants.

Due to new environmental rules, six different plants will close in the coming years, and Dexter said his province needs to get replacement power from somewhere.

“If we don’t have a strategy to replace those, what is the cost associated with some other strategy?” he asked. “There has to be a strategy.”

As for this province, Dunderdale continued to stress the large-scale benefits of building Muskrat Falls and the associated transmission links that will tie Newfoundland’s energy grid in with Atlantic Canada.

At one time, the government effectively framed Muskrat Falls entirely as a domestic energy project, boiling the whole thing down to two questions: whether the province needs electricity, and whether Muskrat Falls is the cheapest way to generate that power.

For months, the government has been moving away from that message, and Thursday, Dunderdale stressed a different question.

She asked whether the province is going to be “in charge of its own destiny” when it comes to multiple mining developments in Labrador which are hungry for electricity.

“Is all of the development in Labrador going to be hostage to Hydro Quebec in terms of energy for development?” Dunderdale asked.

“That’s a big part of this debate that needs to take place over the next few months.”

Nalcor and its Nova Scotia partner, Emera, have yet to finalize the legal arrangements that will govern the development and allocation of Muskrat Falls and the associated transmission routes.

Back in January, after the two companies missed a self-imposed deadline, both said things were progressing well, but they wouldn’t place any further deadlines on it.

On Thursday, Dunderdale said things are still progressing well, but it’s unclear how much longer the legalities will take.

“It’s going to take whatever time it needs to take,” she said. “Some time before November, I hope. But whether that’s going to be September or mid-October I can’t really say at this point in time.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Hydro Quebec

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Jacob
    July 13, 2012 - 13:44

    "Dex " talked to Dunderdale about the "massive hydro project critical to the demands of BOTH provinces". He's speaking for us now? Who's next in line, Don Cherry?

  • J. Albert Thomas
    July 13, 2012 - 11:42

    Tim Jamison says Muskrat must be the best option - otherwise government wouldn't be pushing it. WOW! Isn't that about the scariest bit of logic you've ever heard to support a massive investment of public funds over a 60 year period? I can only hope that Tim Jamison is not a real living person - that it is a pseudonym like John Smith created by one of government's expensive PR agencies to sell this obscenely flawed project to an unsuspecting public. As disgusting a use of public funding as it might be, I can accept that there are people out there who - for a price - will write whatever their clients want to hear, no matter the consequences for their fellow citizens. It would be almost depressing to contemplate the alternative - that fifty years after the Churchill Falls fiasco, we would still have people in this province so eager to accept that something is good simply because government says it is good. Is that how far - or how little - our individual and collective powers of reasoning have evolved in a half-century? Please tell me it ain't so!

  • Tim Jamison
    July 13, 2012 - 10:31

    Muskrat Falls is the best option and the government would not be pushing it if it wasn't. All these leftwing conspiracy theories are completely insane. You guys are fighting Muskrat Falls because you're fighting the conservatives. You're playing politics with our electricity and it's Totally Cracked.

  • Winston
    July 13, 2012 - 10:10

    Fred Penner says he's always amused by Maurice's creative mathematics. A friend who knows Maurice once told me that Maurice once told him that one can make a rational argument that two plus two equals five. Seems he got the idea from reading Plato or Aristotle or someone like that. So on this Penner makes a valid point. Yet in general Maurice makes a lot of good arguments but as Ben Franklin said about John Adams - sometimes it's just crazy. It's a bit much to analyze all the issues of MF. To do it alone requires one to be an expert in everything, and there's not many of those around. Not to say that there's not value in common sense too. I think Maurice has added a lot to this debate, raising concerns, despite not always showing expertise.

  • Winston Adams
    July 13, 2012 - 09:11

    They keep repeating that we will have to ration electricity and that any alternative to MF is escalating in cost so it doesn't matter if MF costs go up . Both of these assertions are false. We have a slight problem with our winter residential heating load, which has been handled for decades by Holyrood for about 100 million a year for oil. Meanwhile our residential and small commercial heating and hot water is very inefficient, to the extent of 600 Megawatts of wasted electricity, that's more than the average output of MF. We can convert to efficient systems for one fifth the cost of MF. And the cost of conversion gets cheaper not more expensive. The cost of equipment continues to get less per kw of heat they produce. Nalcor says NFLDers are not interested in this approach.. Who wouldn't want electricity at the equivalent of 2 to 5 cents per kw hour, which is what these systems deliver heat for . Are NFLDers no longer trifty people? Maybe I'm wrong, perhaps waste is the way of the present generation. However, being properly informed is a problem here. Our government doens't practise what it preaches. Their EFFECIENCY POLICY talks about the need to develope a CULTURE OF CONSERVATION through effeciency, but it doesn't apply to Nalcor and the MF project. Almost nothing to assist residents on this CULTURE CHANGE. Just Talk without intent of meaningful action. And could some reader out there reading this, with some knowledge of the amount of electricity waste care to contradict my figures? We have a lot of professional engineering people who chose to remain silent- wonder why. The average reader must doubt that we could be wasting 600 Mw of electricity, which is very economic to use, yet we are to proceed with more multi blliion dollar capacity. Madness to me. Cracked, crazy, foolish, silly , senseless--in terms of meeting our winter heating needs. Maybe MF isa great project for mining companies in Labrador, residents of Nova Scotia and the NE Usa. Should'nt the beneficiaries be the other way around? Only in Nfld could this happen, and so far not a major oposition, unless one assumes the polls reflect the slow process of the public becoming informed in bits and pieces.

  • Frank M
    July 13, 2012 - 08:59

    Interesting to note that neither Dexter or Dunderdale can get a face to face meeting with PM Stephen Harper. No loan gaurantee - no project.

  • Don II
    July 13, 2012 - 08:46

    It is clear that the Muskrat Falls hydro electric project will be required to be developed in order to provide the electricity for future development in Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada. The question is when should the project be built and under what financing conditions? Is it possible that Hydro-Quebec could buy the controlling shares of Nova Scotia Power and thereby control the corridor through which electrical power from Newfoundland and Labrador must flow to get to markets in Nova Scotia and the United States of America? Is it possible that increased construction and operating costs for the project will exceed 40%? Will the total construction costs exceed $10 Billion? Why is it necessary for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to bear the lion's share of the debt for the Muskrat Falls project? There are many unasked and unanswered questions regarding Muskrat Falls. It appears that the passage of Bill 29 or the Cover-up Act as it locally known was designed to make it impossible for the media, public and opponents of the Muskrat Falls project to obtain information regarding Muskrat Falls from Nalcor and the Government of Newfoundland under Access to Information laws. This troubling iron handed secrecy only serves to make the viability and advisability of proceeding with the Muskrat Falls deal at this time even more suspect! It appears that the Premier of Nova Scotia has been informed that all is not well and that the Emperor may not be wearing any clothes in Newfoundland after all. It appears that Premier Dexter may be getting concerned and dropped in for a chat with Premier Dunderdale to see for himself and to be reassured that all is well. Whether Dexter believes what he is told remains to be seen. If I were Mr. Dexter and the Government of Newfoundland told me that the Earth was round I would ask to see a satellite photograph and a scientific report to prove that the Earth is round or at the very least oval!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    July 13, 2012 - 08:03

    Nalcor's VP Muskrat Falls (Gilbert Bennett), Tom Marshall and Minister Kennedy have repeatedly said that Holyrood operates at capacity in winter, and that when operating at capacity it uses 18,000 barrels of oil a day...... At $100 per barrel that would be about $200 MILLION in winter...... After requesting the info since May, I just received word from Nalcor that over the last 9 years Holyrood operated AT CAPACITY at less than 2% of the time (1.58%) ... less than 6 days per year. SO when operating at capacity in winter, oil (when operating at capacity) would only cost --- not $200 million, but about $3 million a year. Of course, it operates at less, and much less than capacity as well. So on average (2002-2010) Holyrood oil has cost about $92 million a year, and in 2011, Holyrooddid not operate AT CAPACITY at any time. See

    • Fred Penner
      July 13, 2012 - 08:32

      I am constantly amused by your creative mathematics. By the way, what was the spill from the Hydro system this year?

  • paddy
    July 13, 2012 - 07:55

    to all you naysayers can you name one province or state thet if it had this resource would not develop it would have had long before now you barely know how to turn on a light yet youre experts on this

  • Eli
    July 13, 2012 - 07:35

    Premier Thunderstruck is adamant this project is going ahead come hell or high water. So what will a non-vote debate in The House accomplish? Better it was held in The Waterford.

  • rattler
    July 13, 2012 - 07:33

    Ever get the feeling that all this is to rattle some people's cage.

  • Virginia Waters
    July 13, 2012 - 07:10

    Clearly the Muskrat scheme was predicated on a lie from the outset. The problem with a lie - especially a whopper like this one - is that you have to make up even more lies to cover your tracks. This project matches the Upper Churchill for sheer stupidity but certainly exceeds it for deceit.

  • Cold Future
    July 13, 2012 - 06:57

    Even with the creative and new math economics as well as the unmonetized approach, nothing adds up. With all of that, it is balancing act to justify the project and even the so called experts stated that the pending closure of Corner Brook pulp and its 120 MW back inthe system would change the viability. There is no way to compete with energy from Quebec into Labrador without massive subsidy. Any increase in the project numbers further makes the project a lose lose lose situation for NL ratepayers. NL has given enough to Quebec. We don't need to so generous again with NS or anyboby else. Its time to recognize that the ship is sinking and bale out as quickly as possible.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    July 13, 2012 - 06:44

    So now we need Muskrat Falls to provide Danny's multi-billion dollar mining giants power at 2-4 cents/KWh, power that to build and transmit will cost island ratepayers 20-30 cents/KWh ---- WE, island ratepayers/taxpayers will thereby lose billions to placate the mining giants of Labrador...... It makes more sense, for everyone, for the mining companies to buy their power over the fence from Quebec for 2-4 cents/KWh.