If Wells could talk …

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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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 rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Public Utilities Board, Manitoba Hydro International

Geographic location: Decision Gate

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Recent comments

  • Stand up Please Mr. Andy Wells of the Public Utilities Board and tells us why you are silent, it is critical to Newfoundland and Labrador's well being
    April 12, 2012 - 09:44

    You are correct Mr. Daniels, Andy Wells appears to be stifled, and, if so, we want to know who has stifled Mr. Wells. This information is critical to the well being of Newfoundland and Labrador's future. I am wondering if it could it have something to do with the method of financing of the Muskrat Falls Contract along with the risks that we already know about that are inherently built into that contract. Mr. Wells if you want what is right for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador concerning this energy project, will you please stand up to what it is you refuse to approve this project on, if not Mr. Wells you will be complacent. You and I know what happened in the 1969 Upper Churchill Project when nobody open their mouths to utter a word on the the bad contract which was drawn up on the Upper Churchill Project. But, of course, the ordinary Newfoundlander and Labradorian had no idea of what was coming down the pipeline. The Upper Churchill Hydroelectric Project should have created the most vibrant economy in the whole of Canada right here in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it eluded us because Quebec became the primary beneficiary of that gargantuan and lucrative energy project which brings in $2.5 Billion dollars annually to the Quebec economy while the province of Newfoundland and Labrador gets $50 Million dollars, barely enough to keep the project going and Newfoundland and Labrador's amount is slated to be reduced in 2016 and Quebec's will be elevated.

  • William Daniels
    April 11, 2012 - 20:08

    Russel, If you don't get a call over this editorial then someone has Andy stifiled.

  • Herb Morrison
    April 11, 2012 - 18:43

    Mr. Ryan poses the question as to how long the Telegram is going to publish comments by persons such as the two gentlemen referred to as Maurice and John. My question would be : how much longer will it be before the Telegram is prepared to take affirmative action to ban such comments, whose writer's attempt to refute the argument being made by individuals such as Maurice and John, and others, by countering with derogatory comments with reference to people's character, the state of their mental health, and the list goes on. Such comments do nothing to refute intelligent arguments such as those made by Maurice, and John and others like them. The comments amount to personal attacks which are an insult not only to the intelligence and integrity of persons being targeted, but such comments are also an insult to the intelligence most readers. Telegram editorial staff, please spare us further abuse.

  • Joe Ryan
    April 11, 2012 - 08:41

    Get a room boys. For anyone who has never seen obsessive behavior then look no further than the Maurice and John show. Please Telegram, spare us from the reruns of their rants.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 11, 2012 - 08:27

    Thank you WTF........ It is being rumoured on radio that Muskrat Falls may be financed (with a potentially 3% lifetime 'royalty') by the mining companies of western Labrador............. So I wonder if you could also enlighten us as to whether the Assistant Deputy Minister of 'Royalties and Benefits' will be involved in any way in the negotiations and financing arrangements and/or in providing input into legislation that I understand that government will be bringing forward concerning the proposed Muskrat Falls project?

  • Charles
    April 10, 2012 - 18:17

    Boys going to have to stop fighting over this project...There one way to settle it...I got a question for you. Maurice is putting up a building 20.000 square ft John is puting up a home of 3500 square ft Which of the two...use the lease power. If you boys can't answer this question...why DISCUSS MUSKRAT FALLS.

  • John Smith
    April 10, 2012 - 17:43

    You are wrong maurice...we will indeed need the power. The forecasts all point to an increase, the actuals have residential increases every year. Vale alone will require almost 100 megawatts of power, and the GBs in Bull arm will require about 15 megawatts. That alone will drive the industrial side higher than the forcasts, as MHI and Navigant have stated. So we will have an increase in demand both in residential, and industrial...and that is just on the island side. You are wrong maurice...and you have no realistic data to back up anything you say.

  • W Bagg
    April 10, 2012 - 15:23

    Byes, go to MSN Messenger will ya John and Maurice!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 14:21

    Muskrat Falls, JOHN, is not predicated on small portions, or on bits or pieces of the island demand ---- it was predicated, AND THE VIABILITY OF MUSKRAT FALLS depends on ------ TOTAL island demand ------ and our total energy needs are down more than 1 terawatt (12%) since 2004, and our peak demand in 2010 was virtually the same as it was in 2001 (1,478 MW vs. 1,435 MW) ----- about 500 MW BELOW our existing INSTALLED NET capacity of 1,958MW.------ No matter which way you twist it John ----- WE DO NOT NEED THE POWER. PERIOD.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 12:46

    Since you are so sure WTF that I don't know Mr. Carter, are you suggesting that therefore he has only been a taxpayer paid-for, 'public servant' for only a short while (the new release implies he has been in his previous position for only 7 months). ++++ Why not enlighten us all then --- and post his resume. ++++++ Also, are you using our taxpayers paid-for internet and government time to attempt to intimidate?

  • Too Funny
    April 10, 2012 - 12:28

    If Wells could talk... would anyone listen. Nah, not really.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 12:11

    A 'libelous' comment no less? You are not trying to intimidate now, are you WTF? Of course not. Why don't you put your name to your post, WTF?

    • WTF
      April 10, 2012 - 15:15

      I thought I was doing you favor by pointing out what you were doing. In hindsight I should have spelled it out for you. Don't you realize that you're the one who is constantly claiming that people are "attacking the messenger" but what did you do? Attack someone you don't know, someone who has never made a public comment on this MF. A short bio of Mr. Carter is on the government website with the announcement of his promotion. Will Ference

  • John Smith
    April 10, 2012 - 12:02

    Maurice, as anyone can see if they go to the PUB site, actual load for residential use on the island has increased every year...just as gov. said. Industrial load fluctuates, and will change drastically when Vale and Bull arm are both going at the same time. However that does not change the fact that residential has increased every year.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 11:17

    Here John, here is another cut and paste -- from the Provincial Government's website (news release) :---- "Paul Carter has been appointed Assistant Deputy Minister (Royalties and Benefits), Department of Natural Resources. Mr. Carter has been Executive Director (Iron Ore Industry) with the department for the past seven months." ++++++++ Government has to make sure that Labrador's mining giant needs get the very strongest representation at the very highest level within our natural resources department...... Royalties and Benefits for whom? Where was it that I recently heard something about a "royalty trust" being set up by the mining companies to finance Muskrat Falls or am I mistaken?

    • wtf
      April 10, 2012 - 11:49

      FYI. An Executive Director is one position below an Assistant Deputy Minister. So Mr. Carter is being promoted from a position in DNR to a higher position in DNR. Please try not to make libelous comments about people you don't know.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 11:01

    What you are showing John, seems to be Nalcor's unreliable forecasts for future years. The demand/usage figures I show are "actual' energy demand/usage numbers from Nalcor's Exhibit 103 ---- which confirms an actual 12% drop over a 6 year period of more than 1 terawatt. ------ Perhaps that is the 1 terawatt we are giving to Emera FOR FREE for 35 years.

  • John Smith
    April 10, 2012 - 09:45

    Maurice, you cannot cut and paste on this site. So I encourage everyone to go to the PUB site, go to Muskrat review, go to #103.................................................. Total Island Load(gwh) 2010:7,585 2011:7,709 2012:7,849 2013:8,211 2014:8,485 2015:8,606 2016:8,623 2017:8,663 2018:8,732 2019:8,803 2020:8,869 2021:8,965 2022:9,062 2023:9,169 2024:9,232 2025:9,260

  • Maggy Carter
    April 10, 2012 - 09:11

    It wasn't even 9 AM and NALCOR spokesman, John Smith, had submitted his first sleazy diatribe of the day. This time it was to ridicule a column by Wangersky who points out what many of us have known for a long time - that the Dunderdale government and NALCOR are engaged in a concerted campaign to smear anyone who dares question the need for, or the economics of, the largest publicly financed project ever undertaken in this province. Smith's modus operandi is predictable, if overtly nasty and dishonest. Being unable to fault the message, he repeatedly attacks the messenger - in this case Wangersky, Jones, Wells and the PUB. He mocks Wangersky's attempt at investigative journalism, deliberately ignoring of course that this was an editorial comment. Smith accuses Wells and the PUB of having misspent $2 million in public funds. Typically he offers no facts but casually drops an accusation regarding steak dinners and wine. The truth is that had Andy could have spent the whole $2 million on entertainment and it would have been fine with NALCOR and Dunderdale as long as he gave them the thumbs-up for Muskrat. Smith doesn't offer to tell us how much he's paid for his daily invective on these boards, nor does he suggest that NALCOR should open its books to see how much wining and dining has gone on in the name of Muskrat. The implications of this project for the taxpayers of this province are nothing short of frightening. And yet, because of NALCOR's program of disinformation, government's campaign to smear its detractors, and the special interests pushing it, Muskrat will no doubt go ahead at the end of the day. It will be left to historians - and perhaps the inevitable Royal Commission of Inquiry - to ascertain just how much skullduggery and public money was used to make it happen.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 09:09

    Here JOHN, IS a few more 'made up facts' ---- (cut and paste from Nalcor's Exhibit 103), it showS the island's total energy use from year 2004 to year 2010 ------- 8,637GWh,...... 8,496,GWH,..... 8,088GWh,..... 8,082GWh, .........8,10GWh, .......7,500GWh,........7,608 GWh ----- DOWN 12% OVER 6 YEARS

  • John Smith
    April 10, 2012 - 08:58

    Maurice it is so hard to debate with someone who completely fabricates everything they say. I mentioned here before that the DG3 numbers have not even been compiled yet, and will not be untill July. The government wanted to have the opinion of the PUB before the house sat, so there could be debate. Funny though, the opposition has hardly even brought the topic up in the house. So I expect the time set aside for the debate on Muskrat will also be a waste of time and money due to the utter incompetence of the poor ol liberals and the joke that is the NDP. Why don't we set aside 5 more years to study it? That sounds about right. let's study and study and study, and spend and spend and spend...them in 2017 we will have spent all kinds of money, and have no power to provide for our homes and industry. That's what the Liberals would do. Then someone would have to come in and actually do something...like build a dam. like I said Maurice it is impossible to debate with someone like you, because you just make up facts and figures out of the air, with no basis in fact. However I hope you continue, because you are helping the eventual decision to construct the dam, not hurting it...

  • THANK YOU ANDY
    April 10, 2012 - 08:54

    Andy Wells is not going to have his name on another Churchill Falls disaster for NL.

  • Mr. John Smith you brought up some good points, let us investigate it. I will nominate The Telegram to do that job.
    April 10, 2012 - 08:19

    Mr. John Smith Thanks for writing about this serious subject. I suspect with the $6.2 Billion dollars and proposed "cost overruns" (licences to print money) there will be thousands of sumptuous meals eaten in the finest restaurants with tens of millions of dollars being spent to placate the palates of the orchestrators and their crony business acquaintances of the Muskrat Falls Project, a project which the voice of reason points to as not being needed and being too risky at this present moment in our history. Thanks Mr. Smith!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    April 10, 2012 - 08:15

    John, how about Nalcor and government? They have NOT, from the start, had enough confidence in their proposed multi-billion dollar corporate make work project to give the PUB the time, the authority and the resources to reach a pro or con decision. +++++++ That is why government: ----- (1.) exempted the proponent and the project from the regulatory authority of the PUB (the public's regulator), (2.) the Reference Question was so restricted in what the PUB could assess that ALL OTHER options were EXCLUDED, (3.) the scope of the Terms of Reference (TOR) was essentially set by Nalcor (4.) the language in the TOR was attempting to prejudice the PUB by stating in the TOR itself that Muskrat Falls was 'least-cost', (5.) in doing any cost comparison the PUB had to use Nalcor's cost comparison numbers AND METHODOLOGY to try to reach a conclusion, (6.) Nalcor refused to answer dozens and dozens (perhaps hundreds) of questions from MHI, the PUB, and consumers, (7.) the PUB was forced to compare options OVER A 57 YEAR TIME PERIOD, a time period that heavily biases the proposed Muskrat Falls project (intentionally so) in favour of the Muskrat Falls option, (8.) government refused to give the PUB the time needed to do their due diligence on behalf of consumer, (9.) government refused to allow the PUB to review, evaluate and report on DG 3 (sanction quality) numbers, (10.) the Minister sent a letter to the PUB on the last day during the 'public' review process in an attempt to prejudice the PUB's quasi-judicial decision (just to name a few). --------If they proposed corporate welfare that ratepayers are being forced to pay for had any merit ----- what is the government afraid of? And why go to such extremes to pull the wool over the people's eyes?

  • Jeremiah
    April 10, 2012 - 08:04

    When one has been bought and paid for, why should one talk?

  • John Smith
    April 10, 2012 - 07:24

    Now there's good investigative journalism for ya...LOL It was probably this...or maybe it was that??? Why don't you dig into it and find out where the 200,000 a month went, before you start to spin it in the PUBs favor? Why is it that you immediately take the side of the PUB over the government, and NALCOR?You are basiclly calling Ed Martin and the Team at Nalcor liars and incompetents, yet Andy and the three others at the PUB spending 200,000 a month is OK?? The PUB was given ample time to do a review, then they were granted an extension. First they said they needed more time because they wanted to take the show on the road for a few weeks, and burn through some more money. Then at the end they said they didn't have enough info...after 50,000 pages, and hundreds of exhibits they didn't have enough info? Russel you and others at the Telegam, like Mr. Jones are so biased against this project, yet neither of you can come out with one reason why? I guess it just generates interest and sells more papers if you are on the opposing side, that's the only thing that makes sense. I think though you should take off the blinders just once, and see what the PUB did not do here. Even the independant group they hired, (and according to your indepth analysis spent all the money on)managed to return an opinion, yet they could not? Tell us again Russel why Nalcor and the province wants to sucker us in, yet the PUB is the Knight in shining armour? I would love to know. They had 9 months and two million dollars, they had an extension, they had MHI...they had steak dinners and wine...yet in the end...we don't know b'y....that maybe allright for the folks at the telegram...but it's not OK with me.