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Letter: Muskrat Falls — there’s far too much at risk

The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project site in Labrador.
The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project site in Labrador.

Pam Frampton, in her Oct. 7 Telegram column, “Inquiring minds want to know” states that “With more than 80 per cent of the (Muskrat Falls) work finished, the province can’t afford — financially, legally or practically — to stop now.”

First, let me say that the phrase “80 per cent of the work finished” can be misleading.

When the transmission line work is included in that statement, the total percentage of the project work completed is “averaged up.” The transmission line is almost 100 per cent complete. Whereas the separate multi-billion-dollar generation component is about 50 to 60 per cent complete. And it is with respect to the generation component that billions of additional dollars remain to be spent. That is where the risk of methylmercury comes from. That is where the risk of wiping out Mud Lake comes from. That is where the loss of life and risks for Happy Valley-Goose Bay comes from. That is where the risk of a breach of the North Spur comes from. That is where a very large part of the ongoing/multi-year/multi-billion-dollar operating/interest and maintenance costs come from, etc.

On or about April 2011, I was asked by the CBC what I thought of the Muskrat Falls project. I replied that we didn’t need it, we couldn’t afford it and it was too high a risk. As can now be seen from my earlier comment, proceeding, continuing or stopping Muskrat Falls cannot be predicated only on (as Ms. Frampton seems to think) whether or not we can afford it.

Affordability alone is “not sufficient evidence of truth.”

“Need” — We didn’t need the Muskrat project then, and increasingly the evidence shows that we don’t need it now (energy consumption and peak demand are both moving down, not up and better options are available).

“Affordability” — The province and the people cannot afford it, now even more than in 2011 (per kilowatt hour generation, interest, operating and maintenance costs are out of this world, and on a per capita basis our provincial liabilities are worse than Puerto Rico’s, whose democratic government is now under the yoke of a U.S.A. federally appointed commission).

“Risks” — The province has no control over the river’s flow, on which the project’s estimated generation capacity depends (the so-called water management agreement has been struck down by the Quebec court). Cultural and health risks to Labrador’s Indigenous peoples are immoral, unacceptable and contrary to UN international law. Nalcor relies in part on certain “average” geotechnical test values and extrapolated shear stress/strength numerical analyses to conclude that progressive landslide failure (a flowslide) cannot occur on the North Spur, even though the 1978 major landslide that occurred on the North Spur was so categorized.

In short, the initial issues (need, affordability and risks) have all significantly moved in the wrong direction, and if the generation component is not stopped, its impact as to the viability of this project will be negatively affected.

Yes, it is too late and not practical to stop the transmission component (the transmission line can bring our recall power, or some cheap purchase power from the Upper Churchill for our own use, help mitigate our obligations to Nova Scotia and eliminate the need for the generation component).

Stating, without “sufficient evidence,” that we cannot afford to stop the project is not in the least consistent with Samuel Johnson’s underlying principle — that truth, even in the case of Muskrat Falls, requires “sufficient evidence.”

Where is the evidence that the financial/legal/contractual obligations that government has imposed on us outweigh the now more obvious and real evidence related to decreased need, decreased affordability and increased risk?

What is needed now, as a critical part of any inquiry, is a thorough assessment and determination of how best to reduce the risks/exposure that this boondoggle has imposed on us.

We do not need a public inquiry for the sake of political expediency. We need a review or public inquiry that addresses the priority issues head on and that is authorized to make the kind of findings and recommendations that will (as in Australia) make a difference.

We need, and must have, as Samuel Johnson says, “sufficient evidence of truth.”


Maurice E. Adams

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