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Letter: Danny Williams and 'alternative facts’

Published on January 28, 2017

At the St. John’s Board of Trade luncheon last week, Danny Williams used part of his address to attempt a defence of his legacy project at Muskrat Falls.

Sadly, his facts bear little or no resemblance to actual facts in the real world. It was eerily similar to the Donald Trump aide who definitively described the “small” crowd for the presidential inauguration as the “biggest” crowd ever. The explanation of the discrepancy was that the aide was providing “alternative facts” that he and President Trump preferred and chose to believe.

A quick look at Danny’s “alternative facts” and some “real facts” is enlightening.

Danny’s “alternative fact” is that all mega-projects go over budget and run behind schedule. While recent projects, such as Vale and Hebron, have done so and are doing so, the Upper Churchill came in on schedule and within budget. The two mega-projects Danny mentioned, Vale and Hebron, are different from Muskrat Falls in one very big way. As they go over budget, large international mining and oil companies spend more of their money in our province and bolster our economy and the provincial treasury, at no cost to government or individual taxpayers. Meanwhile, as Muskrat Falls costs escalate, it is us as individual taxpayers who dig deeper into our own pockets and do without government services as more and more of our hard-earned tax dollars goes to Nalcor to pay the bills.

Danny’s “alternative fact” claims that Muskrat Falls positions us for independence from Quebec in 2041 when we get to renegotiate the Upper Churchill deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Muskrat Falls generates 824 megawatts and the transmission line to the island has a maximum capacity of 900 MW. There is room on the line for an extra 76 MW. How does Danny plan to get the 5,400 MW of Upper Churchill power onto a line that can only carry an extra 76 MW? It is clear that the Muskrat Falls project and its transmission capacity has nothing whatsoever to do with the 5,400 MW at the Upper Churchill. Unless we are going to spend several more billions of dollars (that we don’t have) on new transmission lines, we will still have to deal with Quebec in 2041.

Danny’s “alternative fact” claims that Nova Scotia doesn’t get any free power. The real fact is that Nova Scotia gets 20 per cent of the power from Muskrat Falls for 35 years and they send us no money. To get this power, Nova Scotia will build a transmission line that they will own for 35 years. It’s exactly the same as telling your neighbour to buy an extension cord, plug it into your home and you will pay whatever extra it costs to heat the neighbour’s home for 35 years while adding the cost to your own light bill. But according to Danny, that does not mean the neighbour is getting free power.

Danny’s “alternative fact” states that the cost of electricity was going to go from 11 cents per kilowatt hour to 15 cents/kWh even without Muskrat Falls. Therefore, the final cost of 21 to 22 cents/ kWh is only a few cents more expensive, not double the rates as some people say. What his “alternative fact” omits is that the increase from 11 cents to 15 cents/kWh was based on a prediction that oil would be $150 per barrel and we would also replace the plant in Holyrood. That is the scenario described in the documents in November 2010 when he first announced the project.

In every case, a very different reality opposes the “alternative facts” scenario that Danny put forward. If nothing else, he deserves credit for following the old adage, “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good argument.”

Meanwhile, here in the real world, we’ll all struggle with light bills that will double, along with the increased taxes and fees from last year’s budget and forced efficiencies in many public services, such as snowclearing. Then there are the large financial commitments we must keep that were made by Danny’s administration on our behalf so we can complete the money pit that Muskrat Falls has become.

Thanks for the legacy.

Roger Grimes, former premier