A good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless for his protection) gave me a wonderful device that allows me to easily and lucratively violate provincial law. I’ve started using it already.
Curiously, the device itself is not illegal. Nor is what it produces. Nor are the containers that hold what it makes. I can use the device as much as I want, fill as many containers as I please and consume what they hold until I can consume no more and at no point am I breaking the law.
That only happens when I sell (or try to sell) the precious commodity to some other citizen. But sell I have, making an enormous windfall through the transaction: almost 100 per cent of the revenue is pure profit.
What is this valuable black-market commodity? Electricity!
That’s right: forget drugs, guns, moonshine and cigarettes. The real illegal money in this province is in positively charged electrons. Anyone can generate them, but only one company (you guessed it: Nalcor, the government energy corporation) is allowed to sell them.
The current government of Newfoundland and Labrador realized that the only way Nalcor could earn enough money to pay for the
$10-billion destruction of Muskrat Falls was to force consumers to buy all power from Nalcor and from Nalcor alone — no matter how high Nalcor raises rates.
The Progressive Conservative government knows that if citizens are allowed to choose (like, if this was a democracy) they would probably not buy electricity from Nalcor because Nalcor will be the most expensive dealer in town. Citizens would easily find other sellers who can let the stuff go at much better prices: like me, for instance.
Plenty of room to grow
As illegal enterprises go, mine is starting small. The device (I should mention at this point, for the benefit of any lawyers or police monitoring my column, that my friend had absolutely no knowledge of my illicit intentions for his gift) is a solar-powered battery charger about the size of a thick paperback book. It charges up to four double-A batteries at once and has space to store four more.
My business model is simple. I put dead rechargeable batteries into the recharger and set the recharger in sunlight. When the batteries are full, I sell the power, charging $2 per battery plus a 10 per cent deposit on each container, unless the consumer provides his or her own. The plan is working great so far. I’ve already sold two batteries’ worth and since those batteries came with the recharger, that means none of the $4 I made had to pay for startup.
The business can only grow. After I sell enough electricity, I’ll buy a second recharger — one for triple-A batteries. With my income doubled, I’ll be able to add more equipment: panels that can recharge 12-volt car batteries. They cost less than $100, so it won’t take very long to assemble a dozen or more.
With them (and at least one wind turbine) I’ll be producing so much electricity I’ll have my household needs satisfied and will only need to sell the excess. By that time, as well, it will be impractical for me to sell power in batteries alone and I’ll string conductive cables to my customers — no doubt beginning with my neighbours and branching out from them.
Pretty soon, I’ll be having trouble meeting the expanding demand with what I can produce on my own property, but maybe I can lease my customers’ roofs to utilize their sun exposures.
After that, however, I won’t stay long in the business. Once my neighbours realize how cheaply I’m producing electricity, they’ll get in on it themselves, and they won’t need to buy from me. By then everyone in North West River could be making the stuff and we’ll have so much excess we can sell it to Happy Valley-Goose Bay — until that town gets off its expensive hydro habit, as well.
Imagine how much power several thousand independently generating households can produce — they’ll probably have enough left to sell to anyone, like a new mine somewhere, at far cheaper rates than even Hydro-Québec can charge.
No wonder Nalcor needs to hide behind a monopoly.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.