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PUB Muskrat review scaled down: Wells

Public consultations, advocate's role likely reduced due to March deadline

The Public Utilities Board (PUB) will comply with orders to produce its review of the proposed Muskrat Falls project by the end of March, but aspects will be scaled down, including public consultations and the consumer advocate's role, says chairman Andy Wells.

"Now we have to have the report by end of March and, of course, that's an order from the government and we shall do that," Wells told The Telegram Thursday.

"The public consultation is going to very restricted. I don't know whether we will be holding a technical conference. The consumer advocate role will be substantial restricted. There is not sufficient time."

"In order to meet the March 31 deadline, we have to start writing our report in mid-February. What we really are looking at is two to three weeks of work that we thought would require three months."

After Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy extended the review deadline from Dec. 31 to March 31, the PUB asked for the deadline to be extended further to June 30.

Wells told Kennedy in a letter that Nalcor hasn't been filing information on a timely basis and consumer advocate Tom Johnson wrote the PUB to say the June 30 timeline is realistic given the work yet to be done.

Wells noted the government referred the hydroelectric proposal to the PUB and gets to set the time frame.

"We have no control over that," Wells said.

At first, the PUB thought the end of December timeline was ambitious, but achievable. But Wells said when Nalcor did not provide reports and replies to requests for information in a timely manner, it became problematic to meet the deadline, especially when a lot of the responses gave rise to even more questions.

"We found ourselves in a situation where late fall it was obvious we were four-five months behind schedule," he said.

Even so, he said the PUB didn't ask for the March 31 extension.

"We did write and ask for the June 30 extension because we thought that was the minimum we thought was necessary to achieve what we thought the objects of the exercises were," he said.

The PUB is to get a report from Manitoba Hydro International Ltd. (MHI) in late January. The PUB needs five to six weeks to write its report and had expected a public consultation process of two to three months - a process that will now be squeezed into two to three weeks.

"In that (two- to three-month) public consultation was a technical conference for the experts to review the technical information generated. Also included in the public consultation process would be a role for the consumer advocate to examine the reports and ask questions," Wells said of what was previously planned. He said the PUB will know more in the early new year what it can and can't do.

The public consultations were supposed to start in September, but there wasn't enough information forthcoming from Nalcor, Wells said.

He said there are an estimated 80 requests for information still outstanding that either the PUB or MHI have made to Nalcor.

"The information we are getting is all information that was generated to the end of 2010. I would presume there's a lot of further work done on this project that's not been available to the board," Wells said, adding he's not sure if the PUB will have the most current material to work with.

"We're going to be writing a report presumably with the end of last year's information."

Asked whether the process is too rushed, Wells said that's in the eye of the beholder.

"All I can say is we will not be able to do the job that we had anticipated we could have done when we got this reference in April-May of last year," Wells said.

"All I can tell you are these are our marching orders and we will march."

On the PUB's website, the timeline of requests to Nalcor is spelled out, beginning with requests in June, continuing repeatedly into November.

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