Sunday, February 26, 2012

MUSKRAT: JUST NOT ADDING UP

I have spent whatever spare time available to me this weekend, reading over as many of the presentations to the Public Utilities Board's rushed hearings into the proposed Muskrat Falls development, as possible.

I have tried to stay away from the political rhetoric by researching  the issue in an effort arrive at an informed decision. My line has been let it stand, or fall, on its own merits.

I do not have the time, nor the ability to critique all he proposals presented last week, but I would like to single one out.   The Opposition Critic for Natural Resources, Yvonne Jones' presentation to the Public Utilities board was very well written and argued. It was not a partisan rant. It was focused and full of pertinent unanswered questions.

 I agree with Yvonne when she says, "We cannot afford to rely exclusively on the non-objective and biased perspective of Nalcor and their allies." The public want a watch dog to ensure this deal is watched, to keep the proponents honest. They also want some assurance that they will not be left holding the bag on cost over-runs and price spikes. Yvonne appears to be offering to carry out that role.


Frankly, a lot of well informed, professional people have spent a lot of time, and thought, on the proposed Muskrat Falls project. Many have come to the conclusion that this freight train really needs to be slowed down.

I have gone from someone who supported this project, in principle,  to very doubtful - based on the fact that Nalcor has whitewashed other electrical generating options and I really think the population/housing/demand projections are wrong.  

A genuine current study of the cost of retrofitting Holyrood for Natural Gas that could be piped directly from the offshore has not been completed. The data that NALCOR  has been quoting is outdated.  The answers from politicians and Nalcor are not adequate.

Considering the  insular projects that have not been developed and the potential, if necessary,  of bringing electricity down to the province from Labrador (Guaranteed Winter Availability or Muskrat Falls) could more than address our predicted energy needs.

I am no longer convinced that there is a market for our expensive hydro electricity via the proposed EMERA route. If that is the case, that why would we consider moving forward with a project that will make electricity cheaper for Nova Scotian's, than Newfoundlanders?  There are so many unanswered questions about the financials - cost overruns, exports, the price of power, to justify pushing ahead sanctioning this seven billion project.

Neither of the so called "independent" studies has convinced me that Muskrat Falls, as proposed,  is the  lowest cost option for the province. It is simply, the lowest cost of the options framed by NALCOR. Nothing said by Manitoba Hydro International or NALCOR at the PUB hearings has changed that.

However, the presentations by those urging caution have convinced me that the Gate Decision making process is geared towards producing the result NALCOR and EMERA want. Slowing down this project makes sense. There is no rush, we have missed opportunities for the export of energy,  they have been filled by cheap natural gas generated energy in the United States.

Hydro electricity is just not what it's potential was, even  just a few short years ago. Throw in the huge increase in wind farms, the recent approval for two new nuclear reactors in Georgia, cheap (bountiful)  natural gas supplies and American markets are shrinking like a sand castle at high tide. EMERA's brass has already said  they won't accept paying 14, 15, or 16 cents a kilowatt hour for Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity.

There appears to be a lot of evidence to support a future energy model that can take us to the expiry of the Churchill Fall's Contract without EMERA's involvement. The combination of decreasing the demand for electricity through demand side management and bringing on other sources of energy makes more and more sense to me.

I remain to be convinced, you can count me as one of those that initially felt this project deserved to be perused, that now feels it would be prudent to slow it all down until NALCOR's assumptions, estimates and projections can be confirmed more accurately.   

We, and future generations, deserve much more than a trust me!


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