If there was one overriding message from Premier Kathy Dunderdale at Tuesday’s press conference, it’s this: the game’s over, folks. This project is a go.
That attitude became pretty clear as Dunderdale answered questions from reporters, after she, Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy and Nalcor chief Ed Martin unveiled the final Muskrat Falls estimates.
On the still-pending federal loan guarantee, the premier said, “we are very close on the loan guarantee, but I’m not going to assume anything. … This is not a sanction decision here today.”
But on the idea of letting the province’s Public Utilities Board take a look at the new numbers, she emphasized that they refused to render a decision on the initial proposal: “I’m not prepared to go back through that process again.”
In fact, she made it clear that no further expertise is needed. Listing off the opinions they’ve received so far — including two from Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) — she said she’s satisfied to let the issue rest.
On the looming debate in the House of Assembly, she suggested it’s going ahead because the opposition parties “requested over 23 times to have a debate.” Is it being held to shut them up, or will it serve a purpose?
So, if there are no more studies needed, no experts to be called in the debate, one question remains: what will make this a done deal? Simple: the loan guarantee. And there you have it.
There are a couple of important changes in Tuesday’s Decision Gate 3 numbers over the earlier estimates.
First, they now include the federal loan guarantee. The DG2 numbers did not. That means, as the premier indicated, the project has gone from feasible with no help to being sanctioned only with Ottawa’s assistance.
Second, the price has gone up, from $6.2 billion to $7.4 billion, with the province’s share rising from $5 billion to $6.2 billion. Nova Scotia’s Emera has not updated its estimate for the Maritime link from the initial $1.2 billion.
The range of possible overruns has been reduced, and that led to a question as to whether the numbers have been massaged to offset the higher price tag.
Nalcor’s Ed Martin replied that almost half the engineering work has been completed, and that bids on several key components are already in.
In the end, MHI agreed with Nalcor’s assessment that Muskrat Falls will cost about $2.4 billion less than the “isolated island” option of developing other sources of power. That’s in 2012 dollars.
Speaking of other options, Martin said other energy options were more closely scrutinized this time. MHI is releasing separate studies today on energy alternatives. The extra review responds to criticism that Nalcor has glossed over other options in its zeal to develop Muskrat Falls.
In the end, here’s the thing to take from the news conference: critics have complained for the past two years that information is lacking, that communication has been lacking, that the whole thing is being rushed.
Dunderdale, on the other hand, considers all that wrangling as time served, and is content to let MHAs take one more kick at the can before sanctioning the inevitable. The debate will just be window dressing.
And that won’t be a good day for democracy.