Top News

LETTER: Churchill Falls judgement isn’t a loss but an opportunity for debate

Joseph R. Smallwood at the Churchill River, circa the 1960s. — Telegram file photo
Joseph R. Smallwood at the Churchill River, circa the 1960s. — Telegram file photo - SaltWire Network

Newfoundland and Labrador had its first Supreme Court Justice just in time for the Judgement of the Churchill Falls Case. Although CFLCo was not successful, Reading Rowe J’s dissent was a small provincial victory after such a long process. Having the “what might have been” or “almost was” recorded for posterities sake.

But all of this talk of Churchill Falls Power coming back to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador begs a simple question. What then? Thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada we have 23 years to figure out how to manage Churchill Falls power, ostensibly none of which we can get to market without Quebec transmission lines. 2041 will possibly see the renegotiation of one of the biggest power contracts in Canada.

We have four potential options for this power. In brief, Quebec, an enlarged Maritime Link, Labrador, and the European market.

The first, most obvious solution involves Quebec, whereby we look to book the transmission capacity through to the United States or simply renegotiate the existing power agreement. This solution has the advantage that it would require no additional investment in infrastructure. A fair deal could be struck and both parties could profit from a growing U.S. market. It is important to note that the contract could be set up for renegotiation every five years or yearly to avoid the concern of large market fluctuations.

The second solution would be to enlarge the Maritime Link. This could equally give access to American markets, diversifying the provinces to which we sell our electricity, as well as assisting the country in phasing out coal in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Bringing more power to the island could provide businesses with opportunities, and improve the energy security of the island. There would, however, be quite a pricetag for the transportation of the power from Labrador to the Island and from the Island to the Mainland.

The third solution would be to use the power in Labrador itself. The lowered cost of electricity could be used to run northern greenhouses to improve food security in the north, while providing jobs to local people. Sell the power to research institutions looking to run super computers in the north. Sell the power to Bitcoin miners for the highest bid. In an information age can we not find some way to turn the stuff that runs computers into money? Secondly don’t just encourage local businesses by offering cheap electricity, re-invest the profits in the communities and economy of Labrador, fund start-ups, give out micro-loans, and focus on community based education.

The fourth idea comes from Marcelo Masera, the head of Energy Security, Distribution and Markets Unit in a Directorate of the European Commission, who, at a recent public discussion at the University of Turin’s Energy Centre, suggested that one possible solution to European energy security was the running of subsea transmission lines from Europe to North America through Iceland. It was suggested that, within 10 years, technology may make feasible such a project. The graphic shown at the conference had a power line running straight to the Labrador coast. The province would have access to one of the largest energy markets in the world, if it is possible to prepare for this, Newfoundland and Labrador must begin to do so.

The final point to be made is that no single option outlined above is completely exclusive of the others, we may choose to sell some of the power to Quebec, keep some in Labrador, send some to the Maritimes and in a perfect world begin transmitting direct to Dublin.

What is certain however is that, the women and men of this province must begin now to have hard conversations and draft policies that help us determine what do with this power once the expiry of the contract occurs in 2041.

A government working group? A public policy volunteer organization? Memorial Universities Political Science Department? The Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador? A group of province wide high-school students?

I don’t know who, but someone needs to begin working on this to ensure that one of the largest assets of this province does not fail to fully benefit its people for another 65 years.

Michael Gardiner, originally from Torbay, is a law student at McGill in Montreal.

Related stories:

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier disappointed, unsurprised by Churchill power deal ruling

LETTER: Once more unto the breach

Brian Jones: Court ruling ensures whining will continue

Recent Stories