Lawyers Inc.

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Five lawyers walked into the Super 8 Hotel in St. John’s Thursday to announce they’ve formed a new company. Their business plan is simple: to not build a hydro plant at Muskrat Falls.

It could be the start of a joke. But it’s not.

It’s the start of what will be a full-court press against the provincial government’s Muskrat Falls project.

Nalcor, the Crown’s energy company, is about to release its Decision Gate 3 numbers, the final set of estimates before full sanction. Premier Kathy Dunderdale says that sanction won’t come until a full debate is held in the House of Assembly this fall.

But conventional wisdom suggests this is already a done deal. At the end of July, Nalcor and Nova Scotia’s energy company, Emera, formalized terms they signed two years ago. Emera gets a stake in the project and cheap power in exchange for funding a transmission link from Newfoundland to Cape Breton.

The pros and cons of Muskrat Falls have been long debated in public forums. The opposition parties have raised it in the House, though neither the questions nor answers have been particularly illuminating.

But the primary concern boils down to one question: has Nalcor sufficiently demonstrated that Muskrat Falls is the lowest-cost option to supply the island’s future electricity needs?

According to the lawyers’ group, the answer is no. And they’re not alone in that opinion.

Last weekend’s Telegram contained a forum piece by MUN economist Jim Feehan. Feehan listed several alternatives to Muskrat Falls that he feels have not been adequately explored.

Meanwhile, Thursday’s news conference was an odd creature in many ways.

The lawyers — Richard Cashin, Cabot Martin, Ed Hearn, Dennis Browne and Bern Coffey — are well-known for a diversity of other reasons, some even pertinent to the issue at hand. Why emphasize the legal connection? That’s only a begging for lawyer jokes.

And why form a company? They can make their collective point just as easily without incorporating. As lawyers, perhaps they just couldn’t help themselves.

No new revelations were raised Thursday. One member, Coffey, has an opinion piece in today’s Telegram spelling out concerns about the credibility of Manitoba Hydro International, the firm tasked to make a final evaluation of the project.

But 2041 Energy clearly hopes to crystallize the debate in the weeks and months to come.

Sadly, none of the five took the opportunity to try out Super 8’s famous water slide. It could have been the perfect visual metaphor:

“This project will send our economy down the tubes. Geronimooooooo!”

Organizations: Super 8 Hotel, Manitoba Hydro International

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Decision Gate, Nova Scotia Newfoundland Cape Breton.The

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Recent comments

  • crista
    September 08, 2012 - 09:19

    i have been reading comments,i have not got enough space to explain? if you are paying for your electic bill,and you have increase since 1998 of 67% on your original bill which is calulated by kilowatts used,and the project cost is14.5 billion then research cost...ect 50 years for project???? upper churchill???? can some one explain how it is going to be cheaper,and i am not beening sarcastic are you permitted to attend this debate or is this a government debate or is the people involved with five lawyers with lawyers inc???? ... only allowed to attend this debate and as taxpayers get told through the news????

  • Winston Adams
    August 21, 2012 - 13:22

    John Smith, I think you made an error when you said you know only one thing. Even average Joes know more than that. But you infer that you have expertise in the generation and distribution of electricity. In your argument last week as to why Nalcor is so inferior to Vermont in efficiency savings you gave several reasons why we shouldn't compare the two. I addressed two to show that thay were invalid. Our climate and electric heating give us an advantage over Vermont , not a disadvantage. The other item you mentioned was that we have a large rural population. You seem to realize the fact we have a large rural population which requires electricity distribution to those areas. And it requires the electricity to be carried over transmission lines of relatively long distances. This much you are correct on. But then you make a leap in logic to think this is a disadvantage for savings through efficiency. So follow me now. This transmission looses about 6 percent of the power generated in getting to the houses. It's called transmission loss. Now a average house in Nfld uses say 6 kw of electric heat. Efficient heating cuts that to say 3 kw. With less power needed there is also less transmission losses of 6 percent . Now that is only a saving of .18 kw per house . but for 160,000 houses , that's 28.8 MEGAWATTS. That's in addition to the potential 600MW that can be saved through efficient heating. Now this additional saved energy is available from the generators for elsewwhere , say to feed Vale inco at Long Harbour, and other uses. You get the picture don't you? But that's not all. Because with efficient heating, using half the power, the light and power boys, in stead of feeding say 3 houses now off one transformer, thay can feed say 5. And instead of the average house needing 200 amp services, 150 is plenty. And this allows smaller and cheaper distribution systems. And then when the power companies goes for a rate hike, Andy Wells say hold on now . Lower expenses , lower rate hikes. You get the picture. See how efficiency works to the consumers advantage when you have a lot of rural distribution? So the average consumer who didn't realize this might think you were right when you were wrong. You know the saying, if you can't dazzle with facts, then baffle them with bullshit. So , to conclude, you say you know nothing about this matter, yet you do a lot of baffle. Have I sold you yet, even a little, on the advantage of efficient heating over expensive MF power?

    • Rob Thomas
      August 21, 2012 - 20:15

      There seems to be no shortage of people pretending to be experts on this subject.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    August 21, 2012 - 07:45

    Yes JOHN, and the cost for oil for Holyrood in 2010 was 12% LESS THAN it was 10 year ago in 2002 ------- (from Nalcor's documents) ------ 2002 ($112.5 million), 2003 ($114.8 million), 2004 ($ 80.8 million), 2005 ($80.3 million), 2006 ($63.5 million), 2007 ($107.4 million), 2008 ($123.7 million), 2009 ($80.6 million), 2010 ($100.6 million)..... So why then did your electricity bill go up 68%?

  • Mr. Locke has me confused over his approval of the massive debt for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador
    August 20, 2012 - 11:22

    I attended two sessions at the Memorial University Inco Center put off by Wade Locke about a year or so ago. He stated in the first that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador was destined to be critically in debt in the not too distant future, the next session I attended hosted by him he was touting what I understood to be his approval of the very expensive proposed Muskrat Falls Project being developed that would be the cause of the very critical debt. I have been confused by Mr. Locke's statements ever since attending those two sessions. As an economist I cannot for the life of me understand why he is okay with putting our province into such a state of indebtedness. If he reads this maybe he can explain why I am confused from attending his talks?

  • Virginia Waters
    August 20, 2012 - 10:50

    Jaw (or Jon or Terry) says he would trust Wade Locke's opinion above those of the five lawyers (his derisive name for which makes no sense). You conveniently overlook the fact that Mr. Locke was only crunching numbers supplied by NALCOR. Locke also acknowledged that he had made mistakes - for example not including all of the project costs. Frankly I would rather rely on the much more thorough, insightful and unbiased assessment offered by Dr. Jim Feehan. Feehan is a senior economist at MUN with an excellent track record, particularly as it relates to large public investments in infrastructure. He is extremely knowledgeable regarding the whole hydroelectric history of the province including Churchill Falls. For those like Jaw who are inclined to dismiss the opinions of lawyers, kindly remember that both Marshall and Kennedy are lawyers. If these five were engineers, the critics would complain they weren't financial experts. The fact is these five people have a huge amount of knowledge and experience that is directly relevant to the Muskrat debate. Hearn, for example, was previously chairman of NALCOR. Given the calibre of people who have publicly questioned the wisdom of this project, the public would do well to pay heed.

    • FYI
      August 21, 2012 - 12:41

      Virginia, Feehan and Locke have worked on many studies together. Locke assumed that Feehan was right when Feehan said the transmission costs were not included in Locke's presentation. It turns out that the transmission costs were included. Feehan and Locke are both professors at MUN (I've never heard the word "senior" to describe professors). I don't think you can place either one above the other. Attached is link to Telegram story about Locke disagreeing with Dunderdale about a Legacy Fund. What's interesting is the comment by John Smith,-economist-differ-on-legacy-fund-concept/1

  • JAW
    August 20, 2012 - 09:17

    This is another example of the bias publishing of The Telegram!! I would trust Wade Locke's assessent of this project above all of the "Factitious Five"

    • Frank M
      August 20, 2012 - 11:37

      The lawyers publicly stated their past involvement with governments and energy issues. Dr. Locke and his consultancy practice have never stated if he does consulting work for the Williams or Dunderdale governments, or Nalcor. Transparency is key in a debate such as this one.

  • Cold Future
    August 20, 2012 - 07:09

    A lot more folks need to come out and oppose this insane money losing deal for Muskrat. If it can't keep the ratas at the canadian average, it can't work and needs to be killed now now. If Nalcor can't show a good business case to proceed-show Nalcor the big thumbs down. We'll remain solvent because of it.

  • Winston Adams
    August 19, 2012 - 20:42

    John Smith, it is interesting that you make along list of alternatives that you say have no merit, including moonbeams. But you fail to list efficient heating systems, and we waste 600 Mw on account of that . Last week you said you will not debate this. Guess you have no facts to counter this. I have documented the facts on this energy efficiency issue with the PUB, and neither you nor Nalcor or anyone has disputed them. And while you continuously repeat the claim of the expertise of Nalcor engineers, they are outlclassed more than 10 fold by Vermont in efficiency gains while our climate and energy permits us to exceed them if we so chose, at costs of 1/4 that of Muskrat Falls. Your and Nalcor's silence on this says a lot. You cannot smear or spin the facts on that, so you are silent. But it seems the 5 wise men may not dismiss it. It's the most cost effective of any energy source- and it is a energy source. Now you ridicule lawyers lack of knowledge of electrical engineering issues. You describe yourself as a average Joe, but you have a closed mind on efficiency issues, and your experts seems to be very deficient in that field. Now you should understand that Nalcor claims that our island power deficiency will be mostly due to our electric heating load growth. The experts on heating, on efficient heating, are NOT ELECTRICAL engineers with experience is hydro generation and distribution. The experts are MECHANICAL ENGINEERS who work with heating design. I doubt if Nalcor, Nfld Hydro or Nfld Power has a single engineer who has expertise it this. But there are plenty of them in Nfld. When you have a problem with capacity for heating - go the the heating experts, the mechanical heating engineers. Lawyers know where to find the right experts, assuming the lawyers intent is to find the LEAST cost alternative. As they say , follow the money, assess the cost, as well as the reliability, but don't exclude important alternatives. My experience and training gives me confidence that efficient heating is our best option. I think most mechanical engineers working with heating will support that conclusion. John, why don't you check with a few of those experts, and give us their name and opinion. Do us all a favour and get some facts instead of spin.

  • jeffer
    August 19, 2012 - 15:32

    if the liberals were in power, (yeah, i know, hilarious), but if they were, they would have made THE EXACT SAME DEAL. and the exact same lawyers would have eventually gotten together out of boredom to form an "Inc" against the gov'ts. deal. so...tell me again why this is newsworthy?

  • roy
    August 18, 2012 - 22:09

    Look these lawyers are Liberals, they haven't done any research or come up with any figures, they have an axe to gring against the liberal party. Its best that the liberals distance themselves for these people. The old dog liberals won't lie down for the good of the party. Bring Yvonne Jones back lety her run the party she has the only chance of doing anything. The Likes of Grimes , Dumeresque, Effort, and many more are why the liberals are in such bad shape. The times are gone when leaders like Smallwood could go out in a district and tell people how to vote. Get some new blood and new ideas and you might convince me to vote liberal. I will not do it with the old dogs around and with Bennett as leader

    • Eli
      August 19, 2012 - 08:09

      Roy, if you havn't read Bern Coffey's letter in The Weekend please do yourself a service, find and read it. The revelations about the credibility of Manitoba Hydro are, as the headline says, required reading. No way should that group be allowed to critique Muskrat Falls. Their credibility is zilch.

    • Greyhound
      August 19, 2012 - 08:35

      Roy, before trying to politicize the debate, please check your facts, Cabot Martin worked in a senior energy advisory role for the Peckford administration, Ed Hearn was appointed to the Hydro board in 1979, a Peckford appointee. My Hearn also appeared before the PUB a number of times representing Wabush and Lab City. Yes Dennis Browne was appointed by the liberals as a consumer advoctate and Mr. Cashin has worked with the NDP. So, 2 PCs, 1 Liberal and 1 NDP seems pretty representative to me. Problem is the current PC, crop if you want to call them that try to smear any opposition as being political hacks. The only politicians I have been hearing from, are Dunderdale, Kennedy and Marshall and all I ever hear from them is smear. (ABC for me next time to bad there is no recall provision in our legislative system)

  • Maggy Carter
    August 18, 2012 - 19:41

    So there you have it Mr. Cashin, et al. The official government response courtesy of Mr. Marshall is that you are being irresponsible and inflamatory - bordering on (but not quite at the point of) fear mongering. Hardly harsh words, but they do come from a member of Cabinet who (unlike Kennedy and others) is not known for combative language in or outside the House of Assembly. What we might take as government's unofficial response however is per usual designed to smear, malign, demean, belittle and generally ridicule - not so much the message - but the messenger. "Clueless, absurd, hilarious - just five washed up has beens with an axe to grind" offers Muskrat pupetee John Smith. Let them "stick to getting criminals back on the street" he adds for good measure (I'm not sure which of them was ever engaged in that particular line of legal work). The unkindest cut is reserved for Cabot Martin. The implication left is that Martin, if not the whole gang, have some ulterior, sinister motive for opposing Muskrat. Martin, claims Smith, is about to lose his shirt on a "fake gas play on the west coast" and so ostensibly has found a clever way to recoup his losses from a mega project by opposing it! Now I don't know much about the various gas plays on the province's west coast (I have read that government has an equity stake in some of them) so I'm not sure which gas play it is that Mr. Smith contends is bogus and in which Mr. Martin is supposedly involved. Neither can I be certain whether Mr. Smith is asserting that Mr. Martin is a victim or a perpetrator. But surely if Mr. Smith has any knowledge of fraudulent activities, it is incumbent upon him to pass it along to the proper authorites. If on the other hand he has no such knowledge, he should exercise more caution in making statements that could be seen to impugn the integrity of prominent citizens. I don't know about getting criminals back on the street but my guess is that Mr. Martin and his colleagues in this new energy alliance are more than capable of defending themselves against libel.

  • daz rite
    August 18, 2012 - 17:06

    6 years work for 60 years of taking it through the nose for a select few to profit from.

  • FYET
    August 18, 2012 - 15:15

    I'm very grateful that these individuals and coming together to ask raise some very important questions about this looming fiasco! Try as they might the government mouth pieces cannot silence the questions and worries of the general populace. Lots of us, myself included are careful and prudent with our personal finances...why should we sit idly by and accept that the goverment wants to spend the province into oblivion with this mysery project!

  • Maurice E. Adams
    August 18, 2012 - 14:37

    JOHN, NALCOR'S own documents show that over 50 years, $14.5 BILLION will be needed to cover off Muskrat's debt servicing and operating costs alone --- practically all of which will have to come from captive island ratepayers who will be LOCKED-IN (forced to pay) by way of a Nalcor-imposed 'take or pay' 50 year contract...... more than $6 BILLION of which will be taken our of the pockets of our children and grand children "AFTER 2041". ..... Muskrat Falls will effectively PREVENT island ratepayers (our children and grand children) and businesses from benefiting from the NEAR-ZERO COST Upper Churchill power because they will have been locked into high cost Muskrat power... We should be increasing our revenues by making early and best use of near-zero cost Upper Churchill power ---- not by locking us into high cost, high risk Muskrat Fall power. Muskrat Falls makes no economic sense whatsoever. It cannot make profit. It shifts money out of the pockets of island ratepayers and puts it into the coffers of Nalcor (and government) ---- with no net gain, only BILLIONS going to international bankers for debt payments, to Nalcor for operating costs, and way-below-cost power to the mining companies --- power that must be HIGHLY SUBSIDIZED by island ratepayers ------- A TRAGEDY IN THE MAKING.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    August 18, 2012 - 14:22

    Ms. Frampton, your comment still does not answer my question, nor does it even deign to address it.

  • William Daniels
    August 18, 2012 - 10:58

    Never ever had much good to say about lawyers, but thank God for these guys.

  • John Smith
    August 18, 2012 - 10:28

    What I don't understand is how these guys have the expertise to say anything about hydro generation, electrical generation, or electrical distribution? If they had come forward and pushed a ten inch stack of paper across the table and you go...we paid a firm tens of thousands of dollars to show the people of NL why Muskrat is bad, and something eles is good. But, nope, nada, nothing, just the same old tired has been faces, spouting the same old tired reasons. They are really funny though, good for a laugh. You have Richard Cashin on one side saying that the PUB, who received 2 million dollars, 9 months, and one extension couldn't reach a conclusion, and you have Bern Coffey telling us that the company the PUB sourced and hired...MHI... is not reliable because they had a project that went over budget. Hilarious.On one side we have all the people who work for Nalcor, experienced, well educated people, who have worked in the field of electrical generation and distribution for their entire lives, the people at Navigant, the people at MHI, the people at the provincial and federal governments,the gov. and PUB of NS, economists like Wade Locke and others, all have come out in favour of the development....and on the other side we have this group of clowns. What would we say if a group of engineers from nalcor decided to practice law?? It is that absurd. All I have to hear are phrases like ...bankrupt the province...or ...subsidizing power to NS...and immediately I know the speaker is clueless about the project, and is just blowing smoke. If these guys want to convince the people of NL that this is not the way to go they better find someone besides Cabot martin to hang their hopes on. Everyone knows he invested heavily in a fake gasplay on the west coast and is about to lose his shirt on the deal. So thses guys should put their money where their mouths are, get some studies done, hire some experts...prove to us why this deal is not good for the province, and why we should generate power in some other way. I can assure them it will be extreamly difficult to prove that using LNG, NG or wind or solar or coal or nuclear, or moonbeams and butterflies will be better then water...very, very difficult indeed. What I would like to know is what is their motivation? Waht drives these guys to step out in public to do this? To save us from muskrat falls?? If not muskrat then what? Show me the alternative to this deal, show me the documented, expert proof that the deal is bad. Can't wait to read it. However, if it's just going to be five washed up hasbeens with axes to grind, getting before the cameras to tell me that a 4 billion dollar loan is going to bankrupt the province, then I will laugh right in their face. Oh and as Far as exporting the power to NS...I say forget it then. Let the water spill over the dam, and waste the potential 200-400 million a year if that makes you feel better. This development is a well thought out, well designed answer to our coming energy needs. It will take a lot more than the vitriol of these guys to convince me otherwise. They should stick to getting criminals back on the streets, and let the experts who have dedicated their lives to providing us with electricity do their job.

    • Greyhound
      August 18, 2012 - 15:57

      Mr. Smith, you should read Russel Wangersky's oped. piece in todays paper, I believe this describes your position on this and for the most part anything you have written on these boards. Your comments, of this group "washed up has beens", "fake gasplays", "clueless" and "clowns" are nothing more than smear. At the same time you reserve phrases such as Nalcor,"experienced", "well eductated"and "worked in electrical generation and distribution for their entire lives" as factual. The spokespersons leaders I have see front and centre for Nalcor, Mr. Bennett (worked for a cable companymost of his career), Ed Martin (accountant for oil companies most of his career), I am not doubting these peoples intelect or intent but I fail to see the depth of experience. I know of experienced and well eductated persons currently working for or retired from Nalcor who have reservations about this project, unfortunately these people cannot speak out. I was once a solid supporter of the PC's but I assure you I cannot support the current administration (which I beleive you are closely connected to) because this administration do not promote open discourse about important decsions such as this, but stiffle other parties with smear, while promoting your on agenda with spin. (politics I guess) If this was truely a commercial project for Newfoundland the investors would had been lining up we only see ones interested in loaning money with a Federal guarantee. Also, please read Navigant and MHI reports which were based on a narrow scope and reference question and contained conclusions with many qualifications which leave the same questions to be answered which these lawyers and other oponents continue to ask for. Finally, you should be a little more factual in your comments, the utilities commission in NS have not rendered any decsion. Next time John, a little more informed argument and a little less spin and smear. Then again you are likely part of the PC party that believe Nalcor built the Upper Churchill, no the PC's expropriated it. (sometthing they are good at)

    • Eli
      August 18, 2012 - 19:26

      See a doctor John, before you do something real bad!

    • Shane
      August 19, 2012 - 16:57

      Your slow off the mark on this one Greyhound. Get your facts straight on Gilbert and Martin before questioning their skills in public. The ignorance on these boards is astounding. When has Martin ever done any accounting? When was the last time any of these lawyers did a math course let alone know anything about financing (Martin) or engineering (Gilbert) a major project like this? Coffey is still angry over getting lambasted by Williams during the Cameron inquiry. He has always been in Danny's shadow in the legal community and wants to see this project fail. Browne is still frustrated about having to tighten his wallet after Williams fired him from his cushy advocate job. The motives of these 'gentleman' have to be seriously questioned.

    • Jason
      August 19, 2012 - 22:24

      What I don't understand is how John smith thinks he has the expertise to say anything about hydro and electrical distribution. Me thinks his expertise lies in PC bootlicking!

    • John Smith
      August 20, 2012 - 19:21

      I have never said once that I know anything about generating or distributing electricity...the one and only thing I do know, and I know for an absolute fact, is that my power bill has increased by 67% since 1998...that is a fact, and one no one but Nalcor or the PCs seem to care about.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    August 18, 2012 - 10:12

    Question: why does The Telegram, a newpaper with Quebec-based ownership, constantly take a position critical to the development of MF? Prominent MUN economist Dr. Wade Locke has crunched the numbers and has come to the conclusion that the project is viable, yet The Telegram still takes an incessantly critical position on MF. Quite frankly that raises the alarm bells with me. In my opinion the Quebec-based ownership of this newpaper calls into question its ability to remain objective on issues relating to MF. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

    • Pam frampton
      August 18, 2012 - 11:01

      The Telegram's parent company has no idea of the editorial topics we intend to tackle, and no input into them.

    • Eli
      August 18, 2012 - 15:18

      Locke tells 'em what they want to hear. It assures more business. It's called makin' a living.

    August 18, 2012 - 09:35

    This is a good thing and needs serious public debate. Please read The island of Newfoundland does not currently have a power shortage Population growth has been negative, so demand is unlikely to grow There is approximately 850 MW of undeveloped smaller hydro sites on the Island, which could be added incrementally if ever needed Demand reduction via geothermal heating, pellet stoves and solar passive homes could significantly reduce the need for the provinces only thermal generating station, and allow its decommissioning. The article is long ... sorry ... but the path forward is not simple.

  • Thankfull
    August 18, 2012 - 09:17

    Try as you may, you can't take a good man down?????? Now we have a bunch of them, men who are looking out for the people of this Province, I am so relieved.