An aerial view of Muskrat Falls taken in August. — Photo by Ashley Fitzpatrick/The Telegram
Second in a two-part series
In a continuation from Friday’s edition, The Telegram looks at more outstanding issues related to the Muskrat Falls project.
Access to information
“I really am looking for information around the analysis that was done on alternatives.”
— NDP Leader Lorraine Michael, Feb. 8, 2012, following VOCM Muskrat Falls debate
Today, there is a wealth of information about Muskrat Falls and the Lower Churchill development, including the government’s look at alternatives.
That said, some items are still outside of the public eye, such as the value of project contracts.
The Telegram contacted the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to ask about 15 exhibits deemed “confidential” under its review.
While typically the confidentiality of exhibits can be challenged, through an appeal to the board, the Muskrat Falls review was not a typical case. “Pursuant to the Terms of Reference in the Muskrat Falls review, Nalcor, not the Board, made the determination that certain documents were of a confidential nature not to be released,” stated an emailed response to questions.
However, it is also true the provincial government has gone above and beyond its verbal promises and has now set out a clear record of its thinking and the relevant project numbers.
In addition, Nalcor Energy has made its executive and project leaders available to reporters at all points along the way.
“Paid with billions from the treasury and higher rates the users pay.” — from “Our Daughters and Our Sons (Muskrat Falls),” as promoted by the grassroots People’s Assembly - Newfoundland and Labrador
While the planned hydro development at Muskrat Falls is, at times, blamed for higher power bills people will pay in this province, the reality is higher bills are coming regardless.
The only question is what option for providing additional power will keep power bills as low as possible.
The average monthly, residential electricity bill in this province jumped about $45 from 2000 to 2011, according to the provincial Department of Natural Resources.
Comparisons between Muskrat Falls and other options have focused on what happens to bills from 2017 onward, when Muskrat Falls is up and running.
The reality is, bills are expected to surge between now and then (see image accompanying this story).
The province has estimated an average jump of $30 in that period and it will mean, in total, a $75 per month average increase for the period 2001 to 2017 — a tough hike for some individuals and low-income families to absorb.
“If you were asking the question about an export (of power) that will take place tomorrow, I could give you an answer. But this project is well off into the future and nobody can say with certainty what the New England-Northeast U.S. market will look like several years from now.” — Energy consultant Gordon Weil, July 31, 2012, in an interview with The Telegram
- Read more special articles:
- Demand for new energy is clear: government
- The bill on Muskrat Falls
- Debate could go to committee level: prof
- Update: No Muskrat Falls debate: Darin King
Of all the power produced at Muskrat Falls, 20 per cent is set to be sent to Nova Scotia. Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is forecasting a demand for Muskrat power on the island, as a result of growing small business and residential needs.
The provincial government has highlighted a domestic sales market in Labrador mines. Yet, exactly how many mines will come and how much power they will demand is still uncertain.
Overall power demand is enough to justify Muskrat Falls, but not enough for government to currently push for the development of Gull Island as a follow-up.
There have been no commitments to date for the 2,250 megawatts of power a dam at Gull Island would produce. It is found between Muskrat and the existing Churchill Falls power facility.
Premier Kathy Dunderdale has said Ontario is “very interested” in Gull power.
“Ontario’s Ministry of Energy has met with Nalcor Energy to receive updates on the Lower Churchill hydro projects and supports continued discussion between the Ontario Power Authority and Nalcor,” a ministry spokeswoman confirmed in response to questions.
“We have not made any decisions about importing power from Newfoundland and Labrador at this time. Assessment of any supply opportunity will take into account Ontario’s long term power needs, its supply mix goals, alternative supply options, Nalcor’s ability to deliver firm power to Ontario, as well as the cost and value to Ontario ratepayers.”
What comes next
For those tired of the Muskrat Falls talk, it is far from over.
A conversation on government regulation and oversight is expected, as government will be introducing legislation to govern how Muskrat Falls power will be dealt with by the PUB.
As well, Newfoundland Power’s general rate application is under review by the regulator. Hearings on that application will start in January and questions around everything from system maintenance and service to energy conservation programming.
Meanwhile, Nalcor is looking at power deals for the Labrador mines, while coastal communities on the other side of the Big Land are desperate to get off constricting, dirty, diesel-fed systems.
Movement on any of these items have the potential to affect power bills for people around the province.
A final note: objections to the project — based on complaints of an incomplete environmental assessment made by Sierra Club Canada, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Inc. and the NunatuKavut Community Council — will be heard in Federal Court in Ottawa beginning Monday.