The premier of all the Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) is pathetically predictable.
As last week’s rolling blackouts and then outright power outages sent shock waves — so to speak — through a cold and darkened populace, it became increasingly certain that if and when Kathy Dunderdale decided she should say something to the huddled masses, she would mention Muskrat Falls.
And she did, of course. The media’s microphones were barely powered up before Dunderdale predictably claimed the rolling blackouts and power outages proved the need for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, and her government foresaw that need and heroically plowed ahead to ensure our great-grandchildren would have an abundance of electricity — so much, we could presume, that they would beg Mile One Centre to take some of it.
In the narrow confines of the premier’s mind, it was a perfect I-told-you-so moment.
Except that … it wasn’t.
Opposite is true
Dunderdale seems unable to analyze an apparently obvious argument and realize it is false, and that its counter-argument is actually valid.
Rather than proving the need for Muskrat Falls, the recent rolling blackouts and power outages are yet more evidence of its folly.
Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and its parent company Nalcor Energy are responsible for estimating and supplying the province’s electricity needs. In the past week, their abject failure — whether through negligence or incompetence — was visible for everyone to see, especially when the lights were off.
Rather than being snidely self-congratulatory, Dunderdale should have had an extremely disconcerting thought occur to her.
If the people at Nalcor Energy are incapable of keeping a handful of generating stations going, why should they be entrusted with overseeing a $7.7-billion hydroelectric project?
That scenario is far scarier than an evening in darkness. If anyone thought buying a few extra flashlights and batteries was a bothersome expense, wait until they receive their power bills in 2017.
We’ve heard a lot recently about such things as load capacity and peak demand. Suddenly, the government and its top officials at Nalcor and Hydro are uncharacteristically willing to share information with the public.
But their pronouncements sound less like explanations and more like self-justification: demand exceeds supply, capacity is maxed, people must conserve, turn off your Christmas lights, wash your dishes by hand, wear a sweater, this isn’t a crisis, we aren’t to blame, etc.
Except that, they are to blame.
Technical terms and jargon aside, the essential fact of the situation is that Nalcor and Hydro are responsible for estimating and supplying the province’s power needs, and they failed to do that.
Blaming consumers is a crass and detestable approach. Every time someone mentioned Christmas lights, I got a festive urge to turn mine on, maybe even go to the store and buy an extra string or two.
Turn down the heat to conserve? Sure, but who knew it would be cold and windy in January? Not Nalcor or Hydro, apparently.
Among the tidbits of information that was dropped for public consumption was that it would have cost about $268 million to build a transmission line from the Bay d’Espoir hydroelectric generating station to the Avalon Peninsula. It was judged too expensive, presumably.
But a couple of comparisons quickly come to mind. First, the aforementioned $7.7 billion for Muskrat Falls which, oddly, is deemed affordable.
And second: due to the outages and rolling blackouts, how many millions of dollars have been lost in wages and sales by businesses and their employees?
Just as irritating as the cold and dark were the tone and attitude taken by the premier and her minions. Dunderdale should have been forthright and come right out and said, “Let them eat cold fishcakes.”
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org