MHA Keith Russell talks about NL Hydro's proposed rate increase for Labrador
Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell said he has received the message loud and clear from his constituents about NL Hydro's proposed rate increases for Labrador.
"The reaction from the public was pretty quick," said Russell. "(My office) received a lot of calls. A lot of people have approached me in public, too, and they wanted to know what I thought of it and wanted me to pass on their concerns, so I certainly did."
Russell claims he understands the concern and anger of Labradorians who don't want to pay higher electricity bills, saying that many Labradorians are facing high costs of living in areas like housing and groceries and higher power rates could create problems for people on a tight budget.
"When you look at people such as elders and low income families, we have to be very concerned about this, both here and in Labrador West," said Russell. "We have to make sure that we - as MHA's - represent these people."
However, Russell said it's too early for him to say whether or not the proposed increases are justified, and that he will have to do more research into the issue.
"It's too early in the game to say that at this point," said Russell when asked if he thought the rate increases were fair or unfair. "The rate payers have to cover capital expenditures to upgrades in the system. They have to cover operation and we have to subsidize those rural communities...the rural deficit has increased significantly since 2007."
"The proposed rate increase may be justified from a technical standpoint. But I still have to get a little more information on the 39 million dollars that's been invested by NL Hydro in the Labrador interconnected system here, before I make judgment."
Russell claims the provincial government did not drive NL Hydro's proposal. But since NL Hydro is a provincial crown corporation (Nalcor) some are placing responsibility on the provincial government for the controversy.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Stanley Oliver disagrees with Russell on that particular point.
"This is just another part of how this government views Labrador," said Oliver. "Whether it's ferries, transportation, education, or hydro rates. This is (about) how this government lost focus in Labrador. And how they continually don't consult with us and move on ahead."
But Russell firmly believes NL Hydro's proposed rate increases for the Big Land has nothing to do with a 'Newfoundland versus Labrador' mentality.
"In my opinion, that couldn't be further from the truth," he said. "This is not Newfoundland versus Labrador. This is a matter of upgrades and our responsibility to address the rural deficit, and subsidize diesel-generated communities. And the rate payer has to do that."
But Russell does understand the timing of the proposal has aggravated many Labradorians, with the Muskrat Falls development being sanctioned this year and the Upper Churchill project producing so much power.
"I can see their point of view. And that's the point of view of many of the residents of Lake Melville that...with power being generated in our back yard, the timing isn't very good for this."