Thursday, March 10, 2011


I am beginning to have doubts about the proposed Muskrat Falls development. To this point, I have tried to stay away from the political rhetoric, research the issue and come to an informed decision.

I think the time is right to take advantage of the potential of taking Holyrood off the grid. I also think that we need to look at all options that moves the obstructionist Quebec away from controlling our energy future.  I also think that taking on debt to build this project is not a huge concern as transferring funds gained from non-renewable resources to a renewable industry makes sense.

That said the project has to make financial sense in the long term. There needs to be transparency, environmental concerns in Labrador have to be addressed,  as do the issues being raised by province's largest aboriginal group. The dismissive attitude of the provincial government towards these two issues alone is enough to make sensible people reflect on the project.

There is conflicting information out there about the cost of producing the power, who will foot the bill for cost overruns, hydro rates in the future, clarity on what Emera is getting for it's investment and the potential of the private utility Emera getting swallowed up by the cash rich Hydro Quebec at some point. The province has offered less than satisfactory answers to these questions.

We deserve to know more about this project. If the hasty approach to the environmental assessment is any indication, the government moving too quickly without answering the questions that have to be answered before proceeding.

This is an election year. The issue is not do you support the development of the Lower Churchill? Of course most people do. The question should be do you support the right deal on developing the Lower Churchill? A deal that respects all stakeholders, particularly those closest to the resource, and the taxpayers who are being asked to take the risk.

If journalists, opposition parties and concerned citizens are rebuffed behind the veil of "corporate and market sensitivities" there can be no transparency. Business interests aside, Nalcor is our public power corporation. We have a right to understand every potential risk associated with this development with our tax dollars. Cat and mouse games and cute answers will only fuel distrust and suspicion. Engineers offering technical double-talk and non answers should infuriate and frustrate the public.

We can not just trust the administration to do a good deal. We must ask questions, identify the pitfalls and ensure the deal is all it can be or not proceed. The problem is the "we" is not clear. The role of the inquisitor is not defined. We can not count on the House of Assembly as a tool of debate. With only five members on the opposition side, and a spineless caucus government caucus, debate and discussion will be limited to sanctioned speaking points and political objectives will trump all other concerns.

Our society, our media, our business organizations, our people deserve to know what they are getting how much it will cost and what trade-offs are involved. Those that ask questions should not be stoned but thanked. Only the light of day and transparency will ensure the best possible deal. We followed our leaders like sheep with the Upper Churchill and look what we got for it!

For the sake of future generations, lets hold the government accountable and not sit back, trusting that those in charge know best. 

Put it all on the table and let you decide.

Let it stand or fall on it's merits.


NL-ExPatriate said...

Good post up until you blamed our people for supposedly following our leaders like sheep.

According to investigative work done by Jim Feehan and Mr Baker we had a good deal many a time in fact the MOU leading up the final deal had no auto extension a higher rate of return.

Read the report and stop blaming your own people for what was essentially a Conflict of interest!

Origins of a coming crisis.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Thanks for your comments.

Let me put those comments in context for you. I really believe that the people, the royal we have not been engaged enough in public policy. We have a history of selling our own abilities short because so in so is so smart, he or she knows best. As a result we end up with god like leaders with unchecked dictatorial power. Who is to fault for that, we are? We get what we vote for? If we support the lack of transparency by refusing to question it, than we are responsible for it.

I also think that this has led to situation where we are always let down at some point because history exposes a faulty decision of a bad move. I have chosen to stick my neck out there on more occasions than I care to admit..but the silent majority abdicate their responsibilities to talking heads that are often more concerned with the short term than any viable strategic planning.

It may not be popular, but we also need to take responsibility for what we as a people (which includes our governments) have done right and done wrong. This victimization cry is galling. How can we ever be empowered if we are going to shirk our own role in depleting the cod stocks, destroying our forestry, high grading our ore and oil resources, shortchanging our pension plans and robbing school children of resources so they can prosper because money was diverted for waste and patronage. It is a collective we.

I know Dr, Feehen and and Dr. Baker well. I have spoken with them both ob many occasions about these reports. I agree that there was a conflict of interest, that we were snookered but in a rush to begin the project our government broke ground and invested hundreds if millions without a signed contract from Quebec. This left us vulnerable to economic espionage and resulted in the near bankruptcy of the project and Quebec was able to extract a sweet heart deal that just gets better as time passes. We, Newfoundland, put itself in a precarious position and we were taken advantage of. Sure we were the victims of deceit but we created the situation that facilitated it.

In fact if you go back to the paper that you have linked here (I know it well) you will see that the initial ask from Quebec was auto extension and the lower rate. It fell off the table only to re-appear when we were at our weakest.

Again...we have to accept our responsibility as a people and get engaged to prevent repeats of this kind of event.

We can not just take the word of our leaders for granted. Frankly, I am not at all convinced that our new Premier understands the financing, engineering and environmental factors. This does not give me confidence. Instead we have an engineer, non-elected explaining the project in terms that do not generate confidence.

If you disagree with anything I have said please go at it. Being informed of our history or helping to educate others is the entire reason for this blog.


Anonymous said...

"If the hasty approach to the environmental assessment is any indication"

What is hasty about it? The process was initiated in 2006!

"Engineers offering technical double-talk and non answers should infuriate and frustrate the public."

Far be it from me to defend engineers, but what double-talk and non-answers are you talking about? If you are referring to the item that made the news a few days ago, firstly the sound bites were edited to fit a time slot, and secondly the posed questions were answered!

Brian said...

PP, For this post alone I am happy you decided to forgo your little sabbatical.

To anonymous; Smoke and mirrors and generalizations are what these farcical environmental hearings are all about. Look at the bios of the panel, the government has a vested interest yet is in charge of holding and setting guidelines and processes for the hearings. Wake up and smell the money mate.

Peter L. Whittle said...

The process has been underway for much longer than that if you consider previous the to previous attempts at a deal.

TO be clear, my criticism is directed at the public hearing process which should have been delayed to incorporate the legitimate concerns of the NunatuKavut people and give people time to respond to the new changes on the scope of the project which were only recently announced. The project is not the same as it was before Christmas, let a lone, as it was in 2006! If you change things, you have to give concerned groups a chance to respond to those changes. SO, I think the process is flawed.

Frankly, there is a communication issue here. The political powers that are pushing this project need to do a better job in explaining the details. I want this project to go ahead, but I am not prepared to get 100% behind something on faith alone. I want to know more about rate impacts, benifits, etc. I want to hear this from the people who are accountable to me, not from Ed Martin or the new point man, Gill Bennett. They are both very capable people but they speak a much more technical language, are short on specifics and can really only speak to technical details not policy decisions like why the NunatuKavut people are not being considered in a more prominent way or why higher electrical rates might be worth it in the long run.

I think when the introduction of true costs, including the carbon costs, large projects like the two on the Churchill River will be very competitive.

I do not want to see the baby tossed out with the bath water but so far I have little reason fro confidence in how this is being communicated.

Anonymous said...

"The process has been underway for much longer than that if you consider previous the to previous attempts at a deal"
Agreed, but the generation project (under the current incarnation) was registered with CEAA in 2006.

"new changes on the scope of the project which were only recently announced"
Not really...the scope itself hasn't changed - there is a sequencing change only. There are tweaks to the project based upon a maturing design, but that is expected of any similar process.

As well, policy issues are not really the remit of the proponent...that is more of a Government issue!

Anonymous said...

"the government has a vested interest yet is in charge of holding and setting guidelines and processes for the hearings"

The Panel is a joint Federal - Provincial panel...where is the vested interest of the Feds??

Peter L. Whittle said...

Look we can argue semantics..and your points are well taken. The proponent is a provincial crown corporation that is pretty much run out of the Confederation Building. So public policy is a significant issue in this development. If the the proponent /government's policy is to give short shrift to Labrador's largest aboriginal group, they need to be accountable for that. Nalcor was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the obligations to consult, accommodate and deal properly and appropriately with the Aboriginal title and rights of the Applicant that will be affected if the Project proceeds. Nalcor has failed to fulfill that responsibility because provincial government policy says no land claim deal, no proven title.

4.8 Consultation with Aboriginal Groups and Communities

The EIS shall demonstrate the Proponent’s understanding of the interests, values, concerns, contemporary and historic activities, Aboriginal traditional knowledge and important issues facing Aboriginal groups, and indicate how these will be considered in planning and carrying out the Project. The Aboriginal groups and communities to be considered include…the Labrador Metis Nation….

To assist in ensuring that the EIS provides the necessary information to address issues of potential concern to these groups, the Proponent shall consult with each group for the purpose of:

(a) Familiarizing the group with the Project and its potential environmental effects;
(b) Identifying any issues of concern regarding potential environmental effects of the Project; and
(c) Identifying what actions the Proponent is proposing to take to address each issue identified, as appropriate.

If the Proponent is not able or should not address any particular issue(s), the EIS should include supporting reasons.

My point remains the same, the engineers and tech people are resource people, the policy aspect is the domain of the elected people like the ministers and the Premier. It is their job to sell me on this project. Frankly I am an easy sell because the scope and justification is okay with me but "trust me' does not cut it for two reasons. One: it provides detractors with ammunition t0 undermine the project and secondly, not putting the numbers on the table makes it appear that something is being hidden.

Maturing design is understandable but when these changes impact the amount of land to be flooded, etc, without providing those to be impacted time to study the hydrographic data and potential impacts, it is more than a tweak.

In light of these changes of the Panel requested additional info as well as further information on November 19, 2010. 98. Nalcor only submitted responses t on January 7, 2011, and the further information requests on January 14, 2010. Despite outstanding information, and that interested parties were not given an opportunity to comment on the information provided, the Panel announced it would proceed to public hearings. I call that a bit rushed. Nalcor submitted more late information on Jan 31st.

The project changed in November 2010 and the tweaks are interesting because in a way the project will have less of a foot print but the change in that foot print has the potential of new impacts for users of the river and the community downstream. There appears to be no consideration given to the difference in hydrology and other impacts.

Why was there no 30 day period for public comments on the downsizing of the Project?

As I said, I was a supporter of this project, the games and lack of accountability is causing me pause.

Anonymous said...

"obligations to consult"
It is my understanding from the documentation and information that I have seen during the EA process that there were consultations and attempts to consult with LMN that were rejected.

"policy aspect is the domain of the elected people like the ministers and the Premier. It is their job to sell me on this project"
No disagreement, but that is unrelated to the current hearings on one aspect of the project. There needs to be a full dialogue and discourse on the project (not only one aspect of it) in the public domain!

"these changes impact the amount of land to be flooded"
There is no change in this aspect at all!!

"Why was there no 30 day period for public comments on the downsizing of the Project?"
Firstly, the project has not been downsized - it is being re-sequenced, which was an option held in the original EIS submittal! Secondly, it is up to the Joint Review Panel to determine sufficiency to proceed with hearings - obviously they felt that the information provided by the proponent related to project sequencing and general project update was sufficient to proceed without further review and comment from intervenors. Given the TOR of the panel, that is completely within their right, and completely outside of the influence of either Nalcor or the Provincial Government!

Anonymous said...

Notice that the NL nationalist did not respond to you. No surprise, hit any of that crowd with a dose of reality and they melt away!

Greg said...

I think the only question that needs to be asked and answered when it comes to the cost of this project to the tax payer and the homeowner is what will the cost be COMPARED to the cost WITHOUT the project.

The cost of electricity to the public is going up regardless.

Will it be more or less over the next 50 years with Muskrat Falls power coming to the Island.

Without that answer all the other questions are wasted breath.