There is one flaw in Edsel Bonnell’s Aug. 18 rant in The Telegram (“Who can make a silk purse out of a Muskrat?”) about the impact Muskrat Falls will have on the province’s electricity prices. The notion that other people should pay for the power they are using is a simple, obvious and popular one. Dave Vardy and others have made similar suggestions that other people should pay for the mess.
Unfortunately, this idea ignores the reason we have Muskrat Falls in the first place. Not a single jurisdiction from Ontario to Rhode Island and through the Maritimes would buy electricity from the Lower Churchill project because it was too expensive. Faced with an entirely political need to build the project, Nalcor and its partners in the provincial government cooked up a scheme to have local ratepayers cover the entire cost of the project regardless of whether or not they use any of the power from Muskrat Falls.
Aside from the free block of power committed to Nova Scotia, any sales of electricity from Muskrat Falls outside Newfoundland and Labrador will be at rates far below the cost of production. The sales are only feasible because ratepayers in this province will have already covered the cost, in full, plus profits for the companies involved. This plan has been built into the scheme from November 2010 and it is precisely why we face the rate crisis everyone has finally noticed.
The federal government had no interest in seeing the province connected to the national grid or accessing electricity from this province. The federal loan guarantee simply fulfilled a political commitment wrung from each of the federal political parties, at the behest of their provincial relatives, during two or three federal elections in a row. The provincial government was ready to go ahead without the loan guarantee, anyway, as politicians repeatedly told us. So, there is no legal or moral argument to further drag the federal government into cleaning up our own mess, as much as we might like it to be so.
Muskrat Falls is really our own mess. No one should forget that shortly after the project started in November 2010, more than 70 per cent of the people polled in the province supported Muskrat Falls. That support was despite the fact that every single one of its shortcomings, from environmental problems to Indigenous land claims to the effect on electricity prices had been discussed in public before Danny Williams stepped in front of a microphone to announce his last great triumph. Even as costs rose and more of the problems gained public attention, a majority still supported the project. Support has only dipped below 50 per cent since 2015, but even then, the last poll showed about 40 per cent still believed Muskrat Falls was a good thing.
Altogether, the notion that someone else is responsible for our collective folly is a popular argument, but the facts pierce it at the breaking point to which it has been stretched. With Muskrat Falls, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may finally learn what responsible government really means after 163 years. There is no one to save us except ourselves.