Editorial: Muskrat? No thanks

Published on December 17, 2016

Construction of the spillway at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric generating site, June 2015.

©File photo/courtesy of Nalcor

It didn’t even get 400 words in the Boston Globe this week, but it’s a story worth thinking about here.

The state of Massachusetts is anteing up US$11.4 million to help 33 cities and towns switch from regular streetlights to LED lights, which will use up to 60 per cent less power. They expect their money back pretty darned quickly, and it will help the state reach greenhouse gas targets.

Earlier this year, the same state’s governor switched out old-style streetlights in state parks and recreational areas, a move expected to save US$500,000 and 3 million kilowatt hours in power per year.

It’s far from an isolated thing: the purchases are part of a much larger plan by the state government to continue reducing electrical consumption. And it’s not just Massachusetts.

If you’re in the electrical business, you’ve got to be paying attention — and with Muskrat Falls directly connected to the province’s finances, we’re all in the electrical business

It’s bad enough to be worrying about the growing costs and lengthening delays in the construction of the Muskrat Falls project. It’s even more worrying when you start to think about what will happen to the electrical customer base in this province, and in other provinces and states that buy electricity, as technology gets priced into the market, and what that will do to the price we can get for our expensive, far-from-market power.

Big power users in this province are already paying attention to what will happen when Muskrat comes online and power rates spike. One fish plant operation told The Telegram that they are not concerned about price hikes, because they believe they already have a model in place for generating their own power completely separate from the provincial grid — even though they’d need permission to build a new generation source.

If big power users find an economical way to flee, and the average ratepayer still has to pick up the mammoth costs of Muskrat Falls, the price will rise even further.

The average ratepayer does have options, just ask mini-split heat exchange unit installers — many of them are running flat out in the St. John’s area trying to keep up with demand. The units already provide a savings, even at existing, pre-Muskrat electricity prices. Then, there are technologies like Tesla’s new electricity-generating roof tiles. The company says its tiles are more durable that existing roof shingles, and are cost-competitive with high-end roofing, even before you factor in the value of the electricity the shingles produce.

The problem is that needs and technologies in the electrical market are doing something the creators of Muskrat Falls did not envision: making people look in different directions for how they use and get electrical power.

It’s just another emerging threat for a Muskrat Falls model that was far too optimistic in the first place.