I imagine that, right now, Andy Wells feels like he could simply explode at any moment.
He’s done a masterful job so far of not speaking his mind — and that can’t be easy, because he’s spent years saying exactly what he thinks.
But faced with the Dunderdale government’s straightforward filibuster of what it is that Wells’ Public Utilities Board (PUB) actually said about the Muskrat Falls project, he must be near-incandescent.
The government has been careful about staying on message, and that message is this: the PUB refused to make a decision on the one question it had been asked (was Muskrat Falls the cheapest source of power of the two sources the PUB was allowed to examine?), and that, in the process, the PUB wasted the $2 million that the examination cost.
Neither of those condemnations is true, but that doesn’t matter — the smear goes on, to the point that occasional anonymous (and thoroughly independent, no doubt) web commenters chirp about champagne and expensive dinners.
Truth is, out of that $2 million, a fair chunk was probably paid to Manitoba Hydro International ( the PUB’s consultant) Knight-Piesold (the consumer advocate’s consultant) and in legal billings by the consumer advocate himself.
The government has talked in glowing terms about the conclusions reached by the two consultants and the consumer advocate, so you’d hardly imagine that the same government would view their work as money wasted.
But back to what the PUB actually said: “The board concludes that the information provided by Nalcor in the review is not detailed, complete or current enough to determine whether the interconnected option represents the least-cost option for the supply of power to island interconnected customers over the period of 2011-2067, as compared to the isolated island option.”
The point it was making? Well, if you bothered to actually read the report, it’s that the information it was asked to use was overtaken by time. Much of it dated back to 2010 and the board was well aware that there was newer, more accurate information available.
It doesn’t matter that when they were asked to look at the projects, older “Decision Gate 2” information was the only information on the table. What matters is that, as the months dragged on and requested information didn’t appear, that same information was being overtaken by new details.
As the PUB described it: “This information was considered to be at a concept study or feasibility level and was used by Nalcor in selecting a development scenario to proceed to detailed design. … The board does not believe that it is possible to make a least-cost determination based on a concept study or feasibility level of information generally from November 2010 which was intended only to ground Nalcor’s decision to move to the next phase of the analysis, especially given that so much additional work has already been done to define the project and costs and to further eliminate uncertainties.”
Other concerns the PUB managed to track down while it was supposedly lollygagging? That there are still nagging questions about another matter the government has said we must resolve: the question of whether we actually need the power.
Here’s the PUB’s answer: “While the forecast shows a gradual increase in load, it does not demonstrate an immediate need for the significant amount of new generation contemplated in the interconnected option (Muskrat Falls).”
Other issues? The PUB was concerned about the electrical system’s strength should the power supply line go down.
In the final analysis, what the PUB actually said was that, after looking at the level of detail Nalcor had to offer right now, it was too early to answer in any definitive way whether Muskrat Falls was the best of the two choices:
“In the board’s view the time to answer a least-cost question is not at Decision Gate 2, but further along in the decision-making process when there is a higher degree of project definition and significantly less variance around the estimated capital costs.”
There’s no love lost between Andy Wells and I — if you had heard just a handful of the things he’s said to me over the phone in years gone by, you’d know that for a fact.
But Wells clearly isn’t talking, and there are a lot of things being said about the PUB report that simply aren’t true.
Half the problem is the load of political optics being dumped on the public by the government.
The other half is that Andy Wells either won’t talk, or isn’t allowed to talk.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.