Fifty years is a long time. That's about the length of time that we're signing ourselves up for a Muskrat Falls power contract. It is, of course, the most difficult kind oflong-term contract to sign: in order to decide the right way, we have to accurately assess not just one kind of futures contract over a huge term, but many.
We have to accurately forecast the price of oil, to ensure that we make the best choice of material for supplying electricity.
We have to forecast electrical prices and natural gas prices, to ensure that the electricity we're generating not only has a market here, but a market outside the province (something that no one seems to be claiming exists right now at a price below what the power costs per kilowatt hour).
How many and how much?
We have to be able to accurately forecast both the size of our population over the next 50 years, and the demand that population will have for electricity and whether that demand might change, falling markedly as prices increase (even at the current forecast increase, not including cost-overruns, from some nine cents a kilowatt hour not that long ago to 16.4 cents per kilowatt hour).
The numbers being used now for the kind of growth in power consumption necessary to support the need for Muskrat Falls will mean a significant growth in demand that simply hasn't been seen here in the last decade.
We have to accurately predict 50 years of changing weather conditions and we have to properly engineer hundreds of miles of highvoltage lines that will run on a single line of towers across this province to meet those conditions, which seem to be changing fairly rapidly.
In the short term, we have to be able to calculate the supply of available labour and materials for a massive engineering and construction initiative because, as availability decreases, costs increase.
We have to be able to calculate the cost of steel and copper for a massive transmission line, and once again, the labour to build that line.
The margins look broad: when comparing Muskrat Falls to the existing costs of a cleaner and eventually replaced Holyrood generating station (and fuel for that facility) the difference in favour of Muskrat Falls is about $2 billion.
Not everybody wants that equation to be any more complex than that, and than simple politics; the government is pretty blunt in trying to argue that households will see increases like $15 a month. Opponents look at more dire scenarios.
But however proponents and opponents want to describe it, this is not a simple equation; we're not looking at one plus one equals two.
Many things simply aren't on the table. Nalcor and the provincial government disposed of options like controlling electrical demand until power is available from the Upper Churchill in 2041. Likewise, using a decade-old study on natural gas (one so old that it forecast that oil prices would be at US$18 a barrel through 2025 that looks like a joke now and it isn't even a 50-year forecast), the provincial government has tossed out using natural gas as an option, without ever studying it properly.
The province abruptly argues that it's "not economically feasible" to bring natural gas ashore, despite the fact that gas is being brought ashore in a cost-effective way in much more challenging conditions in other parts of the world.
Fifty years is a long time from a technology point of view as well. This week, Hydro-Québec signed a joint venture deal with a Norwegian firm that expects to be producing some 25 megawatts of power a year by 2015 using something known as osmotic power using salt and fresh water and a membrane system to produce pressure and turn turbines. The economics of power generation may not be changing much inside this province, but everywhere else they certainly are.
Wouldn't it be a sick joke if we had a power line to ship power into the mainland grid and it actually turned out to be cheaper to bring power the other way?
The more information, the better.
The real problem is that everyone has made up their minds, dug in their heels and stopped listening.
There are a ton of variables why are we treating this like everything is already set in stone?
Fifty years is a long time to be paying prices that could be amongst the highest in the country. We owe our children more than that.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.