Let them eat cold fishcakes

Brian Jones
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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.

Casting blame

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 bjones@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, The Telegram

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Recent comments

  • Jay Person
    January 11, 2014 - 02:07

    Another thing to consider is that Muskrat won't be all that much juice (824MW). Quebec Hydro is building a dam with 2x that generating capacity for 1/2 the cost. Churchill falls (energy we don't have access to) is around 5500MW. Energy utilities in this province are terribly managed, and start to look like a political hand of poker in a certain light.

  • Marshall Art
    January 10, 2014 - 22:15

    Hey, Kilgore Trout, respect is something that one has to earn, and Premier Dunderdale has lost the respect of many of her 'subjects' with her arrogant, defensive tone of voice , stating ,"this is not a crisis", sounding as if she was speaking to the great unwashed little people. Many poor, disabled and elderly people were left to fend for themselves during those 'rolling blackouts ' and Premier Dunderdale has the unmitigated gall to pooh pooh it as if it was no big deal. Every time the Premier opens her mouth, her foot falls out. Her 'crisis' will come in 2015.

  • Corporate Psycho
    January 10, 2014 - 15:49

    Well said Mr. Jones. God I can't wait for 2015.

  • Harold
    January 10, 2014 - 14:32

    good one Brian. weather Dunderdale addressed the Province during the "Blackout" doesn't matter to me. nothing she could have said would have made it any better for me. I was in the dark, at home, with a 4 year old and minus 16 plus windchill to lower the temp to @ minus 28. not a good situation to be in. i did have a camp stove to cook on but totally unsafe to use for heat and not recommended for use indoors. I consider myself one of the lucky one's , I didn't lose water or have any broken water pipes. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and its parent company Nalcor Energy are responsible for estimating and supplying the province’s electricity needs and in my mind they failed completely. heads should roll over this. get yourselves prepared people because there is much worse to come. Hydro was not ready for this winter and will not be ready for next winter or the winter after that. good luck and don't depend on your neighbor because he / she will be too busy looking after themselves. This Province lacks in leadership from Municipal to provincial to Federal. some towns did have a plan in place and made those plans known by getting in touch with their residents but sad to say other towns are still back in the dark ages before even fire was first discovered. maybe I expect too much from my elected officials but when they ask me for my support I naturally expect they have something to offer me. crazy me for expecting they could at least offer or show some leadership.

  • DH
    January 10, 2014 - 14:32

    great article. The thing that bothers me the most is that the present government can not seem to understand that no matter what they say a huge percentage of the population does not believe them, even if they are telling the truth.It's their own fault! Bill 29! No PUB review for MS Falls. People pay huge amounts of taxes in this province and most do not even work here. We still have to travel to the other end of the country for work. All citizens want is an intelligent, honest, caring, common sense government. Anyone?

  • Kilgore Trout
    January 10, 2014 - 14:12

    I'm all for criticizing elected officals where criticism is due, but the tone and the language that everyone from callers to VOCM to Telegram editors are using appalls me. Have we all lost the ability to be respectful? Calling Kathy Dunderdale "pathetic" and implying that she's stupid is shameful. We should all be above these kinds of personal attacks.

    • Mr.Squeaker
      January 10, 2014 - 15:48

      Respect is earned, authority is the term you seek. No, we do not respect authority, she is relatively stupid, and pathetic in her taking this role and her track record of horrendously dumb speeches full of xenophobia and parochial bluster. Danny was bad enough, but a good actor, orator, and as a townie, he never would prattle on about his propane fireplace, or heated driveway during a non-crisis like this was. Only a burin Haywood could be that stunned.

    • Frank M
      January 10, 2014 - 18:17

      I agree with you Kilgore. The level of hate that is on the VOCM website and talk in shows on a daily basis is truly astounding. And most of the people haven't a clue what they are talking about. But I guess that is what VOCM wants, they think it is entertainment. That they let it happen shows what how far they will sink just to ridicule this woman. And this Jones guy is no better. Sounds like he is on a crusade against the premier with his weekly rants about her. They are tiresome and just shows how little journalistic talent he really has.