MUN V-P research promotes energy megaprojects

Lauds Muskrat Falls and recommends national energy grid

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on August 20, 2014

Megaprojects like Nalcor  Energy’s hydroelectric development at Muskrat Falls reap dividends and are key to a prosperous future, in a stronger nation, according to the past-
president of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and current vice-president for research at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Richard Marceau.

Marceau referred to “big ideas” including the Lower Churchill Project, a national power grid and cross-border pipelines as “nation builders,” while speaking with The Telegram Tuesday.

Discussion of the megaproject, more specifically the energy-related megaproject, is at the centre of the latest publication from the Canadian Academy of Engineering’s Energy Pathways Task Force — “Canada: Becoming a Sustainable Energy Powerhouse” — co-edited by Marceau and a fellow engineer, Clement Bowman.

The text was released at the academy’s last annual meeting, held in St. John’s on June 26. It is now available online.

It includes chapters focused on Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and gas industry, and the Lower Churchill Project. They are from contributors, with the latter written by Nalcor Energy vice-president and project leader Gilbert Bennett.

There is a section detailing research and development funding that has flowed to Memorial University of Newfoundland in recent years, from megaproject proponents, and a section looking at success stories from the offshore oil and gas supply and service industry.

“These initiatives create jobs for decades, create wealth for decades, create a new industrial platform that enables us to capture opportunities,” Marceau said.

Other examples

“It’s not development for developments sake, but it’s developing some of those resources, so that we can capture their value and generate economic activity that will be beneficial for all Canadians. And Muskrat Falls is an example we’ve used in the book, but going to Gull Island is another example and there are other examples in Labrador we could think of.”

He acknowledged public funds were the key to making some Canadian megaprojects, including Muskrat Falls, a reality.

Yet, he asked for a consideration of returns on the same over time and said industry dollars can be drawn out for megaprojects in future, if governments set the stage with the right incentives.

“If the (Canadian Pacific Railway) had not existed, we would not have been able to bring people to Alberta and to British Columbia in the 19th century. And if we had not been able to populate Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia in the 19th century,” he asked, “would those provinces be part of Canada today?”

Aside from the question of cost, he suggested the standing limitations on arising regional and national megaprojects were in part political.

“Governments have often fallen on big projects. The creation of TransCanada Pipelines in the 1950s caused the Liberal government to fall in 1957, with the advent of John Diefenbaker and that changed Canada for decades after that. But TransCanada Pipelines was a Crown corporation then and eventually it was sold off to private interests,” he said.

“I think we need to have people in the public eye, opinion leaders, that have to make a stand on some big projects. It’s going to be controversial. Big projects are always controversial, because there are pros and cons.”