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Document delays hold up Muskrat review

Binders filled with documents for the Public Utilities Board (PUB) review of provincial power options are seen in the PUB hearing room at the Prince Charles Building in St. John's.
Binders filled with documents for the Public Utilities Board (PUB) review of provincial power options are seen in the PUB hearing room at the Prince Charles Building in St. John's.

A review of the Muskrat Falls project by the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities (PUB) - comparing the proposed project to an isolated-island power option - has come to a temporary halt.

The review is awaiting the submission of a key report by Nalcor and responses to requests for information from the PUB, Manitoba Hydro International (now assisting the PUB in its review) and the Consumer Advocate.

Nalcor CEO, Ed Martin, acknowledged a delay in the key report, while speaking with The Telegram Tuesday. He said he committed to filing the report by Nov. 10.

Martin also made note of the hundreds of responses from Nalcor that have been filed to requests for information made to date.

In a news release Wednesday, the PUB stated a "significant amount of information has been filed," but "the board is still awaiting receipt of Nalcor's (comprehensive) submission as required by the (review's) Terms of Reference as well as answers to a number of outstanding information requests."

As a result, it stated, it could not say when the review of the Muskrat Falls project might be completed.

The report was to be presented to the provincial minister of natural resources by Dec. 30.

The PUB statement comes on the heels of written correspondence between the PUB and Nalcor, posted to the PUB site, revealing a dissatisfaction with the Crown corporation to date in regards to the file.

Among the latest, a letter dated Oct. 20, by Nalcor to the PUB, outlined various reasons for the comprehensive submission not having been filed.

"Since the beginning of the review, Nalcor has filed answers to 187 Requests for Information (RFIs), provided 101 exhibits, 53 confidential exhibits and has met with Manitoba Hydro International staff over 20 times," it states.

It notes that "in hindsight" dealing with requests from Manitoba Hydro International, only after putting together the formal submission for the PUB, "may have been an appropriate approach."

The letter committed to having Nalcor's formal submission to the PUB filed "by Nov. 10."

A reply was filed Tuesday by the PUB stating the letter from Nalcor "contained a number of inaccuracies."

The PUB challenged Nalcor on its summary of the numbers. Nalcor had filed 166 responses to RFIs (not 187), the letter stated, while Manitoba Hydro International had six requests outstanding and not five.

"The review was initiated in mid-June, which is more than four months ago, not three as stated," it read.

"At a meeting on June 17th Nalcor stated its submission would be filed by the end of July. This was confirmed in our letter of July 12th and at a meeting attended by a Nalcor representative on July 20th. We are therefore surprised to read in your letter that Nalcor 'had not committed to that date.'"

In speaking with The Telegram on Tuesday, Martin was asked about the correspondence.

"There's been quite a bit of information going back and forth and they're looking for significant detail and that's causing us more work. ...We're not complaining about, it's just that with everything else ongoing, we're taking the time to collect the information in a proper format to send back to them and it's taking more time than expected," he said.

He said, since the tally in Nalcor's Oct. 20 letter, another set of RFIs had been filed with Nalcor by the PUB, Manitoba Hydro International and the Consumer Advocate.

The requests are specific, he said, and have admittedly taken some time.

"We reply and we have to be exact," Martin said. "The PUB process is extremely important to us."

However, Nalcor must take the time to do the job correctly, Martin said, but said it was committed to the Nov. 10 date.

Consumer Advocate Thomas Johnson - with his requests for access to certain information outstanding - agreed with taking the time needed.

"It's important that we don't allow the scheduling issues to interfere with the thoroughness of any review. So, the key point in my consideration is we take the time necessary to complete a proper review and we get it right," he said.

Meanwhile, with the Muskrat review on hold for now, the PUB is continuing a separate assessment relating to Nalcor - a review of its 2012 capital budget application. The board has requested a further breakdown of that budget, prior to any approval.

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