The corpse dances at midnight

Michael
Michael Johansen
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Creak, creak, creak ... rattle, rattle, rattle ... snap! Screeeeeeech ... kerplunk!

Hear that? That's the sound of the wheels once again falling off the Newfoundland government's 30-year-old Lower Churchill campaign bus.

The noise grew quite loud last week when this province's energy company got together with Nova Scotia's energy company to make a big announcement revealing that their negotiations were floundering. They've been trying to strike a deal to lay a subsea cable from Newfoundland to the Maritimes, but apparently there's a whole bunch of new issues they can't agree on.

They said their talks would not be finished by an already postponed, self-imposed deadline and that they had, in fact, come to believe that deadlines are pointless. The cable is vitally important, they claimed, so they need virtually unlimited time to make sure everything comes out right.

That underwater cable, however, is only a minor component of a scaled-back project - scaled back in size with the dumping of the Gull Island option, but not in cost, since it's still likely to soar up towards $10 billion, even for the one dam at Muskrat Falls.

If the proposed Lower Churchill hydro development was really as inexpensive and economically beneficial to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as the government insists, then Nalcor should be able to build it solely to provide this province with electricity.

There would be no need to search for foreign markets that don't exist.

Actually, the deal with Nova Scotia probably wasn't intended to lead to real work. Since it's nothing that a savvy businessman would propose, one might call it Danny Williams' last truly political act. He'd had enough of being premier and he wanted out, but he wanted to go out with bright lights and accolades.

It didn't matter that the cable is unessential to this province's power needs, or that it would allow access to markets that only pay a fraction of the real cost of production - leading to the people of this province paying higher rates to subsidize consumers in Nova Scotia and the United States.

Williams needed something, anything, to announce as his parting flourish, and so used the only thing he had - however flimsy it was.

With the Emera deal, he was able to claim he'd cut Newfoundland's three-decade-old Gordian knot and done what no premier before him could, no matter how hard they tried.

The project, he wanted everyone to believe, was as good as built.

It wasn't, but that was likely unimportant to the departing premier. He had his legacy. The reports of the time will carry the message to posterity: Williams won the day. The subsequent deflating of the Nova Scotia deal and of the entire Lower Churchill proposal won't change that.

Williams left his hapless successors to carry the blame for the inevitable failure, which he could not have done had he remained in office to see his proposal through to the end.

Williams' successors have now reached the same stage of the development process that previous governments came to know so well. They've made a bunch of huge announcements, but they now know they have little hope of carrying them through without bringing Newfoundland and Labrador to bankruptcy.

Having gambled so much political and financial capital on their losing hand, they're too embarrassed to admit they can't fill their inside straight.

To protect themselves from the scorn of the electorate, they hide their losses by hindering public debate and they pretend everything's fine, just a little delayed.

This government, like all before it, are afraid to give the Lower Churchill proposal a mercifully quick and clean death.

Instead, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the corpse dance, with the self-interested puppeteers hoping no one will notice the unsightly decomposition.

Unfortunately, the corpse is likely to be kept dancing for a good many more years, draining provincial coffers while its putrid arms flail about scarring the land, poisoning the water and disturbing ancient aboriginal sites.

The spectacle diverts public attention away from other better, more affordable developments that could bring real economic benefit to the greatest number of this province's citizens - not just another failed boondoggle that only bloats the wallets of a very few.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Emera

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Gull Island United States

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  • Winston Adams
    February 11, 2012 - 11:58

    Nalcor's past forecasts are off largely because of the paper mill closures which could have had allowances made according to Manitoba Hydro, and warns that if the Corner brook mill closes, the advantage of Muskrat gets wiped out . On the other hand , Manitoba Hydro says the domestic [residential demand forecast has been really good, but their methods have some short comings, as they don,t assess appliance end use and energy efficiency. For heating, which is by far the biggest load, this currently leaves out the tremendous energy reduction of these heating systems . When this is ommitted from forecasting it will likely have the same result as was the failure to consider the loss of the paper mills. The result would be poor forecasting for the domestic energy demand and woulld likely make Muskrat a poor choice. Highly accurate forecasts are essential. Winston Adams

  • Maurice E. Adams
    February 04, 2012 - 09:20

    The Manitoba Hydro International report (Vol. 1, page 42) shows that over the last 10 years Nalcor's total island forecast accuracy has been 1.74% annually TOO HIGH (17.4% over the last 10 years). ++++++ Now if Nalcor's too high 1.74% (130Gwh/year) annual forecast was extended, even just up to year 2041, that would mean Nalcor would be forecasting that we need almost 4 terawatts of energy too much --- just the amount that they say we need from Muskrat Falls. ++++ So how reliable is Nalcor's forecast need?