So, who should we believe? Is it Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy, or is in Nalcor Energy, in its statements to the province’s Public Utilities Board?
First, a little history: when the Muskrat Falls project first appeared on the radar, the project’s goals were plainly outlined: the claim was that the project was needed to stabilize power prices in this province by getting away from oil-power generation at Holyrood (albeit stabilizing them at a considerable increase from where we are now), and to swap power to Nova Scotian utility Emera, in exchange for Emera building an undersea cable to Nova Scotia, and therefore, allowing us to reach markets beyond this province in a new way.
Nowhere in that first description did the question of the needs of mining companies in Labrador come into play.
In fact, it wasn’t until the spring session of the legislature this year that the needs of the miners started to surface.
In late May, Kennedy began talking about supplying power to mining firms.
“We have indicated clearly that if companies are interested in purchasing power, that we will do our best to get it to them. I have also indicated clearly, Mr. Speaker, to the member of the Opposition, that Muskrat Falls power holds the key to providing mining companies in Labrador with the power they need and satisfying the needs of the island.” he said. “What we are doing and what we have indicated is that there will be power available with Muskrat Falls, Mr. Speaker, if it is sanctioned and developed. Mr. Speaker, there are no firm contracts signed. I have met with all these companies. There is only one company that said we are willing to buy power. We are in discussions, Mr. Speaker, with these companies and if they want to sign firm contracts, then we will guarantee the power if Muskrat Falls is sanctioned, Mr. Speaker. … We are not going to develop Muskrat Falls simply to supply power to mining companies, Mr. Speaker. There has to be the replacement of Holyrood. When all of that is done, Mr. Speaker, then what we will look at is the provision of power to these companies.”
Since then, mining has become key to the project: here’s Kennedy from this past weekend on the CBC: “Muskrat Falls is a domestic project. It’s to supply power that we need on the island portion of the province and then for mining projects in Labrador.”
Fair enough. But shortly before Kennedy started talking up the mining firms, the PUB asked Nalcor directly about whether mining company needs were involved in planning for Muskrat Falls.
Nalcor’s response? “Nalcor and Hydro have been monitoring all potential projects to increase load in Labrador as part of their normal system planning and load forecasting processes. However no development with increased interconnected electricity requirements in Labrador has advanced to a project sanction stage. As a result, potential increased requirements for electricity, including those indicated by Rio Tinto and other developers in Labrador, are not sufficiently advanced in order to justify commitments to invest in generation capacity, transmission infrastructure or to be included in official utility load forecasts.”
So, which is it? Are mining projects a real, tangible part of the Muskrat Falls planning process or not?
Both positions can’t be right.