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LETTER: Making the right decision

Former Nalcor board of directors member Cathy Bennett.
Former Nalcor board of directors member Cathy Bennett. - SaltWire File Photo

A former Nalcor board member speaks out

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

For the past five years I was a director on the Board for Nalcor Energy.

I have had the opportunity to see the team at Nalcor, led by Ed Martin, methodically and with great discipline review the business case for the development of Muskrat Falls. In April, I resigned from the board to pursue other business opportunities and I feel compelled to lend my perspective to the public discussion on Muskrat.

First, let me be clear. In the fall of 2010, as a director of the board of Nalcor, I voted to support the continuation of work needed to get to Decision Gate 3 of the Muskrat Falls Project and I voted to support the principals of the memorandum of understanding between Emera and Nalcor that will lead to a comprehensive agreement for the Maritime link.

Stands by decision

While it would be unethical for me to break the confidentiality of my work as a corporate director, I can say I have not seen or heard anything in the public debate that has taken place over the last year which in any way has affected my resolve or my personal and professional decision to endorse this project. My support of this project remains steadfast.

I have watched the public discussion and taken every opportunity to explain elements of the project when asked.

I believe the work Nalcor has completed has an attention to detail and a discipline to best practice management that has positioned Nalcor as a world-class corporation.

Yet, over the last year I have watched as the team at Nalcor has been questioned about everything from the accuracy of their numbers to their personal and professional commitment to the province. In my role as director, I watched that team repeatedly focus on the shareholders - the people of this province. They have a passion for excellence, a drive to be solutions-focused and a commitment to their work.

The board and leadership at Nalcor have worked on meeting the province's growing energy needs and also on ensuring we gain maximum value from our energy resources.

They represent the province's ownership in our offshore oil assets, working on management committees for multiple projects, including the megaproject, Hebron.

Their base business, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, is responsible for electricity generation and transmission throughout the province. They have successfully led the work around reopening the facility at Bull Arm and have developed internal expertise for marketing and selling our power, both in Canada and the United States.

The company also manages a critical portion of our province's natural resource assets - Churchill Falls - representing our interest in this active company, while also taking on the management responsibilities for the operation of this 40-plus-year-old hydro electrical generation facility.

Professional team

The Nalcor team is a group of professionals who, with passion and precision, are working vigorously to execute their mandate. As the Energy Plan for the province states: "Long-term and comprehensive stewardship of our energy resources is critical to the future of our people, our environment and our economy."

We must not repeat the mistakes of the past but we must also be able to grow the confidence as a province that we need to succeed, and take pride when we do.

When we consider the strategic direction we will take as a province with the development of Muskrat Falls, one of the most powerful insights I gained is that this project will enable our province to generate almost 98 per cent of our electricity from clean, renewable sources.

We will be the envy of those markets generating their power from fossil fuel and we will be positioned with access to multiple markets for our surplus energy, not only for the power we generate now but for the power we will generate in the future.

The work Nalcor has done, and will continue to do, is work we expect them to do - work that supports the Energy Plan, a plan with vision that recognizes the end of our non-renewable resources and planned for that inevitability by replacing the revenue from offshore oil with revenue from our vast renewable resources.

Realistic vision

This is a vision of realism for our province that should move across any political party lines.

Our province needs that revenue stream to help build schools, pave roads and provide health care and other services we have come to expect.

The debate that is happening is needed and it is important that people be heard.

In listening to the debate, however, we must challenge ourselves to be open to the business case and economics; recognize that risk is inevitable but must be managed; and think strategically about how this development will position the province in the future.

We are a small population with vast resources in a global community.

Looking ahead

We have some choices to make.

We can choose to look at our future with a narrow focus, or we can look at our future in a global context and consider how we can leverage the value of the assets we already have to build assets with greater value and even more longevity.

As a mother of two school-aged children, it's a joy of parenthood to watch them grow and see their excitement about the life that lies ahead and hear their confidence in the things they think are possible. I'm in awe of their optimism and their positive and forward thinking.

But I have noticed that my own language as a parent has evolved as I get older. "When I was your age," I will frequently say, in an attempt to bring my children the wisdom I believe comes with age. My son frequently says to me, "But Mom, it's not like that now!"

And while I want to argue with him as I profess the wisdom of my experience, I must remember to see the world through his lens as well, a lens not built on what we can't do or what we shouldn't do for fear of failure, but rather built around the idea of the possible, on what we can do.

Discussion will continue, analysis will be completed and the decision to sanction or not sanction Muskrat Falls will be made.

From my perspective, as a business person, someone involved in the decision-making to this point, as a parent, and most importantly as a shareholder - I believe Nalcor Energy will ensure the best interests of the province are the first filter in every decision the company makes.

Discipline is essential for success, and good planning coupled with solid execution guarantees achievement. Standing still ensures only one thing - that the world will pass us by.

Cathy Bennett is CEO of the Bennett Group of Companies. She writes from St. John's.

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