While no talks have formally started, the road to Gull Island is quietly being paved.
Gull Island is Phase 2 of the Lower Churchill Project, of which the Muskrat Falls project is Phase 1. Once completed, the Muskrat Falls project will represent about 824 megawatts of power, while Gull Island will produce about 2,250 megawatts once completed, according to the current plans laid out by Nalcor.
Multiple witnesses at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry have outlined a strained relationship with Quebec as at least part of the reason this province went ahead with Muskrat Falls the way it did.
Specifically, former premier Danny Williams, in his testimony on Oct. 1, described an early meeting with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, where discussions of a hydroelectric connection between Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador were discussed, then dismissed.
“There’s a long litany of, you know, what Quebec did in order to thwart us and foil us and block us and everything else, that it became quite apparent that, you know, something – an arrangement like that wasn’t gonna happen,” Williams testified.
Premier Dwight Ball has been working to change relations with Quebec since he came into power, most recently discussing hydro and economic developments with new Quebec Premier Francois Legault over dinner last week.
Earlier this year, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the provinces about working together to help develop mining on the Labrador Trough and transportation projects in Labrador. Ball says the memorandum is a turning point in relations with Quebec.
“I think with the early conversations that I’ve had with Legault, he wants to see more economic activity and he wants to strengthen the relationship. He really was interested in talking about hydro,” said Ball.
“For me, we’re willing to talk about things that matter to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. If there’s an opportunity for economic development, then we want to explore what those options are.”
Ball says specifically, there’s national interest in talking about moving electricity through Quebec and potentially into markets in Ontario and the United States. Ball says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also interested in such a project, with further discussions expected at a meeting of natural resource ministers from all provinces, scheduled for around May 2019.
Ball says while there was no specific conversation about Gull Island in his conversations with Legault to date, developing Gull Island remains a priority.
“Gull Island is a major project. There’s a lot of work that’s been done on it,” said Ball.
“Let’s keep in mind, there’s work to be done. There’s Indigenous conversations that would have to occur — there’s quite a bit of work that has to be done. But yet, it is a project that has advanced beyond many of the other options that are available within hydroelectricity.”
In addition, Nalcor confirmed face-to-face meetings with Hydro-Québec officials at Hydro Place in St. John’s a few weeks ago.
“The meetings between Nalcor representatives and Hydro-Québec were related to ongoing operations as the company's share ownership of the Churchill Falls plant. There was absolutely no discussion related to Gull Island or any new projects,” read a statement from Nalcor.
But it’s worth noting that conversation is happening, with this province and Quebec looking for ways to move past the Upper Churchill deal.
Make no mistake: Gull Island is not Ball’s project — according to a 2012 report by the Department of Natural Resources, every premier since Frank Moores in 1972 has considered ways to develop the entire Lower Churchill project. Between 1972 and 2003, more than $118 million was spent on Lower Churchill research, according to the report.
Whatever the future of the Gull Island project is, Ball says the people of the province should see a different approach than what happened with Muskrat Falls.
“At some point, a resource the size and impact of Gull Island will get done. It’s not something that’s going to be done soon,” said Ball.
“Is there a consumer for this power? Is there someone that can consume that within the province or another jurisdiction? Is there U.S. costumers? Ontario customers? With the federal government involved in transmission talks, it checks one more box where we’ll see this project work.”