By Andrew Robinson
and Ashley Fitzpatrick
The provincial Finance Minister says a claim made by a group of lawyers that the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development could bankrupt the province borders on a fear-mongering tactic.
“I just want to assure people of the province that as the minister of Finance that quite simply they’re incorrect, and that the use of such inflammatory language in my view is irresponsible and borders on fear mongering. Especially when we don’t have the final cost numbers yet. We don’t have the financing numbers yet. We don’t have the finalization of the loan guarantee yet.”
On Thursday, the members of 2041 Energy Inc. met with reporters to outline their opposition to the Muskrat Falls project. They said government should give more consideration to smaller projects that could meet the province’s energy needs until 2041 — the year the current Upper Churchill contract with Hydro-Québec expires.
Meeting with reporters midday Friday outside the House of Assembly, Marshall offered his response to a number of issues raised by the group.
“We welcome debate,” he said. “The more debate we have, the better. But, I would hope that the comments made, instead of using inflammatory language, that the comments made will be based on fact and they will be reasoned opinions — not what we heard yesterday.”
He highlighted the fact Dominion Bond Rating Service last week gave the province an A credit rating. While Marshall noted its assessment did identify financing the project as a challenge, it also said the project will give the province a chance to export energy into Atlantic Canada and the New England market, thus diversifying the Newfoundland and Labrador economy.
“(Dominion) talked about one of the challenges we face, is we’re over-reliant on the oil and gas revenues, and we have to diversify the economy.”
Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin said the issues brought up by 2041 Energy on Thursday are matters Nalcor has addressed on several occasions.
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“I read some of that yesterday ... the things that were mentioned are things we’ve been asked before and we’ve answered very clearly. So I don’t see anything new there,” he said, speaking with reporters at Nalcor’s Happy Valley-Goose Bay office.
Given the political affiliations of the group’s membership, which has covered all three provincial parties at various points, Martin said some of the questions it posed would be best handled by government.
Marshall said the final numbers concerning the cost of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development project will inform government’s ultimate decision of whether or not to proceed with the project, as will the terms of the federal government loan guarantee.
“I just want to assure the people of the province that Premier (Kathy) Dunderdale and the cabinet, there is no way we would allow anything to happen that would jeopardize the accomplishments that we have made in the financial area,” he said, after making mention of debt reduction progress and social investments that have been made since the Progressive Conservative party came to power in 2003.
When the Public Utilities Board released a report earlier this year based on its review of the Muskrat Falls project, it said it could not certify that it would be the least-cost option for electricity rates because its was relying on data from November 2010, when Nalcor Energy passed through Decision Gate 2. Figures for Decision Gate 3 are due later this year.
“Based on the Decision Gate 2 numbers, this is clearly the best option,” said Marshall. “But obviously we have to wait for the final figures.”
Marshall said if Muskrat Falls is not found to be the best option, government will look to alternative energy sources.