Another day, yet another article about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project (colloquially known as the ’Rat Project), this time jumping by $800 million as reported in The Telegram on June 27.
The Nalcor CEO “assures people it’s still the cheapest option,” begging the question: at what point do overruns catch up with this mystical cheapest option?
That any government initiated project goes considerably over-budget should be no surprise, as there are really no consequences whether it is $800 million or much more, since this will be made up by the taxpayer. Of course, in any private enterprise budget overruns of this magnitude, whether through misjudgement, bad management, failure to anticipate, deliberate low-balling, general incompetence, etc., would result in a CEO being hastily shown the door by the directors and shareholders.
But for the ’Rat, the shareholding taxpayers have no say other than at election time, when money has been already spent and commitments made.
I have tried to follow the discussion, in the media and in Nalcor’s publicly available documents, but find it difficult, being neither an economist nor a hydro engineer.
Also the arguments appear unclear, contradictory and convoluted, sometimes secreted behind the opaque curtain of “confidentiality.” There are, however, words of reason written by Ron Penney and David Vardy, two gentlemen I greatly respect.
I served under Vardy when he was president of the Marine Institute. Penney and Vardy are, in my opinion, without self-interest and only intent on an open discussion of the questions.
For me, so many questions remain. For example, what are the effects on flora and fauna of quantities of herbicides typically used along transmission lines? Or will the brush be cut manually, perhaps by an army of temporary foreign workers? Or will the towers be so large as to stand above the tallest trees and render clearing unnecessary? And if the towers are that tall will they be sturdy enough? If not, what happens when the towers collapse? And no matter how big and strong, we all know the outcome of any trial of strength between humans and Mother Nature.
As history shows, government involvement in what is essentially a major business enterprise can be “the kiss of death.” This is because there is no real accountability. Regardless of success or otherwise, the politicians who initiated the ’Rat will be long gone into the sunset with their pensions.
Of course, as they do for Churchill Falls, the history books will record the outcome, good or bad, and the politicians must live with the praise or criticism, something they are used to anyway.
I do not know about Nalcor’s benefits, pensions and severance arrangements, but I find it difficult imagining senior executives homeless on Water Street.
In the meantime all the ’Rat’s owners and paymasters can do is sit back and watch with horrid fascination as events unfold and the cost continues to jump.
Perhaps it is a good time to invest in some serious home conservation measures, maybe look closely at the alternatives — propane, wood, oil. Even oil heating can be independent of electricity, or the furnace can be run by a portable generator — provided generating your own power is not illegal under the diktats of the Nalcor monopolistic regime.
Or maybe we should just lay in a store of thermal underwear and woolly sweaters, remembering that regardless of conservation someone is going to have to pay the cost, whatever it is.
For this ’Rat the piper must be paid.