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Letter: Why the Muskrat Falls inquiry is not needed

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons (right), Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady announce details of the Muskrat Falls inquiry Monday at Confederation Building in St. John's.
(From left) Justice Minister Andrew Parsons, Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady announced details of the Muskrat Falls inquiry at Confederation Building in St. John’s. — Glen Whiffen/The Telegram

The Muskrat Falls hydro project is managed by Newfoundland and Labrador’s Crown corporation, Nalcor, which in turn engaged SNC-Lavalin as project managers to assist them.

This company is generally acknowledged as a world-class hydroelectric power engineering firm. The files related to the project are readily available to government through cabinet documents or are located in Nalcor offices and will indicate what is already known, such as the grossly deficient budgets, unanticipated environmental and site-specific problems, along with the use of open-ended construction contracts mainly dealing with concrete.

None of this has given rise to civil or criminal legal actions.

Rehashing by the inquiry of the various stable power options between oil, gas, diesel and hydro in today’s situation will be an academic exercise of little or no value to anyone other than those availing of costly per diem rates with expenses.

Even the Liberal administration’s inept dismissal of former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin was without cause. His replacement by Stan Marshall, a former CEO of Fortis and earlier critic of the project, appears not to have accomplished what the government intended. Shortly after assuming his position, Marshall advised there is no large hydroelectric potential remaining on the island that could replace the Holyrood thermal generating facility. Furthermore, replacement of the 40-year-old oil fired facility was no longer a practical option, if indeed it ever was.

Nonetheless, the province still needs a stable long-term electrical source. It would make no sense to abandon the Muskrat Falls project for a further costly power liability when some 90 per cent of the contracts and commitments were already in place and now some 86 per cent of this work is completed.

Wind power was not a stable electrical option. When it’s not blowing there is no power, and large practical storage batteries remain in the developmental stages. This limits the amount of wind power that can be tolerated on the electrical grid without unduly disrupting the existing stable power.

Rehashing by the inquiry of the various stable power options between oil, gas, diesel and hydro in today’s situation will be an academic exercise of little or no value to anyone other than those availing of costly per diem rates with expenses. To my knowledge, the commissioner has no relevant experience in a megaproject of this type and he must, of necessity, hire co-counsels in the legal and engineering professions to advise him.

The inquiry will place Nalcor staff and those of their project managers in an adversarial position before the commissioner. This will very likely require additional legal advice and assistance in order to protect their competence and integrity in the report.

All of the decisions in the beginning — good or bad — can be laid at the door of Progressive Conservative governments, however, the current Liberal administration is not without criticism due largely to delays to the project associated with efforts to accommodate every individual or group whose main objective appears to stop the project rather than showing where environmental issues were not adequately dealt with under the Environmental Impact Statement.

All in all, there will be plenty of blame and criticism to spread around, but is this a worthy objective to spend further millions on an open-ended Inquiry? Not in my opinion.

 

T.E. Bursey
St. Philip’s

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