In a laundromat in Digby, N.S., this past week, the talk was all about tropical storm Arthur and the way people have had their power cut off for days.
Five or six people, united by the time it takes to reach the spin cycle, talking about the power failure that’s brought them together.
One woman’s father has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and he hasn’t had power since Saturday morning — it’s Wednesday now, and there’s still nothing.
He’s called the power company, told them his predicament, and still it will be 48 hours before he’ll get power. His daughter, angrily: “They said, ‘If you feel bad, go to the hospital.’ Go to the hospital? I wish they had been talking to me.”
The laundromat is full of people who have no running washers, no running dryers.
But they know a surprising amount about utilities.
And they’re not happy.
To be fair, there’s plenty of damage — just one stretch of road between Lunenburg and Middleton brings you a light-up sign that says “trees — power lines” and the next 15 kilometres is astounding, 30 or more trees hung up over the road in power lines, hanging out over the road like leafy swords of Damocles, waiting for you to drive under.
Hydro wires knocked down and rolled around in the woods like thread — there’s work here for weeks, not days, and none of it is simple.
But in the laundromat, even among five or six people, there’s plenty of knowledgeable discussion about mistakes that have already been made.
One points out that a wooden pole line that suffered a particular amount of damage was supposed to be replaced by steel towers, but the maintenance work was delayed for future years (sound familiar?).
Another talks about newspaper reports of the numbers of line crews laid off and replaced by contract workers.
A third delivers the show-
stopper — “No matter what happens, Nova Scotia Power is getting all their costs back, plus a 10 per cent profit. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a regulated utility?”
The room is totally in agreement. The dryers spin as people nod.
Back to Newfoundland and Labrador.
This week, another independent analyst, this one someone who goes by the initials JM but has had some remarkable analysis of the Muskrat Falls project in the past, looked at the most recent numbers for Muskrat Falls and suggested that, along with other fixes to the province’s electrical system, we could be looking at rate increases of some 85 per cent by 2018.
Back in May, I suggested something similar — that, based on the power percentage increases proposed by Newfoundland Hydro for such things as the new third line from Cat Arm, a very reasonable number for the increase to power rates, post-Muskrat, might be 83 per cent.
Since then, the cost for Muskrat Falls has risen by $800 million, all of which has seemed to bypass the public with nary a peep.
And now, Manitoba Hydro (an arm of which was hired to reaffirm for us what a great plan Muskrat Falls is) is being told by Manitoba’s PUB that their own great “energy warehouse” plan is a bust that could cost taxpayers plenty, and should be curtailed — with at least one mega-hydro-project pulled off the table and others going ahead merely because so much money has been sunk into them already.
The Conservatives, so far, have shown themselves to be completely behind the Muskrat Falls project. But just look back to January here: a handful of days of power troubles and costs literally flung Kathy Dunderdale out the door.
Imagine what will happen if all of the “power calculator” numbers that Nalcor has handed out turn out to be very, very wide of the mark.
The public, right now, may be quiet. They may be waiting to see whose numbers end up on their power bills.
But they are far from stupid. It takes very few hours without power for the public to get very, very angry indeed.
And it will take very few higher-than-expected power bills to do exactly the same thing.
Not too many weeks ago, Premier Tom Marshall was boasting that the province would make $31 billion or so in profits from Muskrat Falls.
Given that we’re the only ones who are going to be paying full price for that power, who exactly is going to be offering up the money that will be those profits?
And how angry will you be, if it turns out to be profits wrung from you and your kids?
You won’t be saying “Let’s all vote Conservative” at the laundromat, that’s for sure.
Russell Wangersky is the news editor of
The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.