Monday, February 13, 2012

THINKING OUT LOUD ON MUSKRAT

I have a confession.

My fascination with the so-called Anglo- Saxon power line from the Lower Churchill under the Strait of Belle Isle,  down the Northern Peninsula, and across the island to Soldiers Pond,  started after listening to Clyde Wells passionately articulate for the development in the late 1980's.

I vividly remember the than opposition leader delivering his passionate vision to the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce at the Keyano Motel. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. A rush of exuberant expectancy, of optimism and of idealism rushed over me.

Here was the steely blue eyed former chair of  Newfoundland Light and Power,offering us a way to unlock the potential of the Lower Churchill, to escape the death grip of Quebec. When questioned about the technical challenges of stepping the power up and down, of the dangers of icebergs scrapping the ocean bottom and markets, he responded with authority.

Of course, when he assumed the mantle of Premier in 1989, the cupboards were bare. The province was sinking in debt, austerity ruled the day. There was no room for emotion, optimism or idealism. The Anglo-Saxon route was too costly, we did not have any partners and Newfoundland and Labrador could not do it on it's own. The passionate flame, the hope of getting around Quebec was as dead as Tom Rideout's premiership.

Than in 2010, Emera and Nalcor announce a proposal that would see Muskrat Falls developed. The dirty Holyrood Thermal Generating Station would be replaced by Labrador Power. The Nova Scotian's would build an interconnect under Bay St. George across the Cabot Straight to Nova Scotia and we would sell our excess power to New Brunswick, PEI and the North Eastern States. In the process, Nova Scotia would close a couple of coal fired energy plants as well.

Clyde Well's dream of an Anglo- Saxon route, the opportunity to unlock the potential of Labrador Hydro without Quebec via Nova Scotia was a concept whose time had come. A couple of year's later, I still like the project..but it all hinges on the finances.

The inability of Emera and Nalcor to settle on the final terms has me questioning if the Nova Scotia Company might be thinking that it's power security may lie south of the border. The rapid development of natural gas exploitation has become a real game changer in the United States.

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

Is it possible that Muskrat is doomed in the short term? Should we be looking at alternatives like our offshore natural gas to supply our immediate needs? How much extra value is there in running the power to the island, and over to Nova Scotia,  if we cannot compete with emerging energy sources? Are we not wiser to dust off the LNG studies of the past, and position our province for future opportunities?

Can hydro compete, in the short term? That is the big question. With  a current fleet of 104 aging reactors, providing 20 percent of the American electricity supply, requiring replacement reactors by 2030, there is  window is opening up for reliable, safe power..  Coal burning facilities provide another 46% of America's electricity needs? Will natural gas displace coal? Is there any room in the short term for Labrador Power?

As someone, who passionately desires the Anglo-Saxon route.....who feels it provides an environmentally friendlier option to coal and oil sourced thermal energy......who feels investing income from non-renewable royalties in renewable economic energy makes sense.....I find myself wondering about the export potential of this project, and thus the viability of Labrador Power as a solution to our insular needs.

Have we all ready missed a window of opportunity, or is one opening-up?

It is a perplexing issue.




6 comments:

Anonymous said...

This project is going to bankrupt us.Big dreams.

Jay L said...

Just as the infrastructure for getting Muskrat power to the island does not yet exist, nor does the infrastructure to collect, transport, store, convert, and use LNG.

As well, LNG emits carbon when burned, just like any other fossil fuel. It's also non-renewable. It's a very expensive short-term solution.

I am not a fan of the Muskrat terms(there still is no deal) in its current form, but I also haven't seen a viable alternative yet.

Perhaps if one of the myriad of "independent studies" and "reports" had tackled something other than what Nalcor instructed them to tackle, using conclusions provided by Nalcor but without any justification, we'd be in a better position to understand the bigger picture.

In my admittedly non-expert opinion, the clear answer is make peace with Quebec, develop Gull Island as well, and use the proceeds to build the supply line to the island. Quebec Hydro, unfortunately, is the key to North America. the Emera portion of the arrangement is too foolish for words.

Alas, I suspect that Muskrat Falls is on a non-stop express train to completion. The die is cast. We're going full tilt down the road we are on, whether we like it or not.

Cyril Rogers said...

Peter, we have indeed missed the opportunity that former Premier Wells envisioned. That concept included, I am sure, the development of Gull Island and Muskrat Falls, with over 3000 MW of power.

This project is but a pale imitiation of that vision and is not even remotely close to being able to give us the benefits of the early deal.

As well, you have answered all of the questions we critics have about why the current deal is a terrible burnden and colossal blunder for this province.

Like you, I was always hoping it could be done but the present deal is far worse than no deal. It offers us virtually nothing in return for our huge debt to develop MF.

Glenn said...

I see Danny Williams is supporting Jerome Kennedy and answering media questions on the government's behalf.

I do not doubt his sincerity, but its troubling that the current Premier and government cannot adequately defend or explain this project.

Plus, the decisions should be made on the facts, not the populism of a former Premier.

Anonymous said...

If the LNG option was realistically viable in the near term, one of the oil companies that have studied it all over would have made significant moves by now!

Peter L. Whittle said...

Which has been my line of thinking exactly, but over the past two years much has changed on the natural gas potential.LNG may not be an option for one plant, but a pipeline may be. We are not talking about an industry here, not yet! The question which no one at Nalcor or the province wants to address, is has the option of bringing natural gas to Holyrood via pipeline been investigated and costed? Up to this point I would ahve answered much like you, but considering we might spend 8 Billion one muskrat, the natural gas option should be considered and rules out before reaching the next gate.