The conclusion might simply be that Newfoundland has to learn how to look after its own needs. The report of the Joint Review Panel for the current incarnation of the proposed Lower Churchill Hydroelectric Generation Project has been out for about a month, and anyone interested in the controversial megaboondoggle has had plenty of time to read, digest and react to the 355-page document.
The reactions haven’t been entirely clear-cut, but it’s safe to say that about the only people left who still think huge dams can be built in the near-pristine Labrador wilderness without significant adverse effects are either employees of Newfoundland’s official energy company, or current members of the Newfoundland government.
Neither group seems willing to acknowledge the panel’s clear message.
To recap, for those who may not remember the whole report: The federal and provincial environment ministers appointed five individuals to seek out, learn and contemplate all the conflicting opinions (and possibly some of the facts) over the feasibility and the desirability of taking Labrador’s iconic Muskrat Falls and replacing them with a multi-billion-dollar generating station that may produce power that could one day be used on the island or be given away to Nova Scotia.
After months of hearing and reading statements from the Newfoundland government, from the state-owned energy company, from other organizations in Labrador and elsewhere, and from many individuals speaking only for themselves, the panel decided that Nalcor (that being the name of the aforementioned developer) has failed to make an adequate case for construction.
The possible benefits do not justify the numerous significant adverse effects the project will have on water quality (through mercury contamination that could spread from the Churchill River right across Goose Bay and down Lake Melville to Rigolet), on habitat for fish and other wildlife in the river, in attached wetlands and on land, on the Red Wine Mountain caribou herd, and on the heritage and culture enjoyed by the people of Labrador.
“If the financial review and alternatives assessments recommended by the panel were to show that there are alternative ways of meeting the electricity demands of the Island over the medium term in a manner that is economically viable and environmentally and socially responsible, the project should likely not be permitted to proceed … because meeting Island demand has been put forward as its main justification.”
In other words, maybe the island should learn to provide for itself.
Nalcor officials acted as if the conclusions contained in the report puzzled them and they seemed to use their confusion to avoid addressing any of the specific criticisms aimed at their shortcomings.
The president, for one, admitted the report surprised him.
He seemed hurt by the suggestion the corporation was not willing to look at other ways to generate electricity on the island, but he made it clear that regardless of what the panel says, going all the way to Labrador to build on the lower Churchill River will always be his favourite option.
Other post-release commentators appear unconfused by the report. Perhaps coincidentally they are mostly those who already happen to be unenamored with the proposed hydro project.
A great many agree with the panel’s recommendations and with the overall conclusion that Nalcor’s planning is inadequate in that it has ignored some areas of research and is avoiding a real examination of alternatives.
The provincial Liberal party, the provincial New Democratic Party, the national Green party and Labrador’s Nunatsiavut Government, as well as a host of other organizations and individuals have all been saying the Newfoundland government should listen to the panel and choose better and cheaper ways to generate electricity.
The government, however, seems as befuddled by the report as Nalcor. The premier even admitted she had difficulty reading the document.
“I haven’t been able to find in the report where they demonstrate in any way where the shortfalls are in the information that Nalcor has provided.”
Maybe if she was a little less fixated on Muskrat Falls she would be a little more open to the panel’s concerns.
Maybe she would see that Newfoundland has plenty of ways to generate its own power and so the island doesn’t need to take it from Labrador.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.