The strain
was showing on Uncle Gnarley’s face as he fought to complete his oration on
that “dreaded” Muskrat Falls project. 
His declaration that the Province should kill the power generation plant
at Muskrat completely and build only the transmission line now, was deemed by
him, a ‘modest’ proposal. 

Though he had
reservations, Gnarley made certain that I understood, even his ‘modest’
proposal contained a significant qualifier: Nalcor must purchase access to 250-350
MWs from Hydro Quebec.  Together with the
balance of ‘recall’ power from the Upper Churchill, of about 80MWs, the cost of
which is small, might, he suggested, “and I emphasize, might, justify such an
expensive transmission link to the island”.

The proposal
had its face saving elements which Gnarley knew would have to be offered.  Some politicians would ‘go down with the ship’,
he suggested, rather than acknowledge they had made a grievous error in

Though he
was a skilled Economist and retired University Professor, Uncle Gnarley had
spent many a summer plying the waters off Petty Harbour, as a fisherman.  For him, turbulence, breaking waves and an
unforgiving coastline were acceptable risks, though measureable when prudently
assessed.  Those who conjured up Muskrat
Falls were landlubbers, he suggested, for whom even the crises in Greece barely
served as a metaphor for peril. For Uncle Gnarley, Muskrat Falls, wore all the
hallmarks of impending disaster.

 “Just a drop”, Nav, as I offered to re-fill
his glass.  I wish to be clear about my

“My ‘modest’
proposal may seem a little brazen, he suggested. Whether it is or not, though,
is quite immaterial. Don’t forget, I added a caveat, he reminded me, again. 
“Oh, I can
hear the politicians now, deriding that idea, he laughed in mock sarcasm!  But, Nav, it will be a test of their leadership.  The Premier will have to admit to being wrong;
she will have to shelve millions of dollars of design work already underway.  She will need courage to tell the public that
there is a better approach.  I believe
the public will embrace the idea but only if she has what it takes to tell the whole
truth of Muskrat’s high cost and high risk, before it is too late.

“If she
refuses that duty, the Premier is merely inviting the people of the Province to
risk screwing themselves, in order to screw Quebec, he growled.  She is a willing partner, engaged in crazy
politics, worse economics and the betrayal of our intelligence, as a people.

“Now, let’s
deal with the caveat I placed on building the transmission line to the island”.  Gnarley stiffened in a posture that dared his
sole listener to mistake his carefully crafted analysis:  “In the unlikely event that Hydro Quebec won’t
sell us power at a competitive price, let’s forget the Labrador link, as well
as the generation plant.  Completely, he

exactly what Gnarley had prescribed, as if for further emphasis, I asked the
obvious: you are suggesting that the Province scrap the entire Muskrat venture?  “You mean ‘misadventure’ don’t you, Nav”,
suggested Gnarley and laughed a little. 
Getting serious again, his face wore the grim aspect of one deeply
worried.  “They really have no choice,
Nav.  Unless, we can access very cheap
power, the project is too risky and much too expensive.

“Now, Nav,
the final question is, do we have other alternatives, if Hydro Quebec won’t
sell us power at a cost at least competitive with what they recently sold the
State of Vermont? 

“We do, he
stated, baldly.  As much as Nalcor is
chomping at the bit to build this project, and as much as they have shielded
critical information from the public and conspired to give an impression that
Muskrat is the ‘lowest cost option’, we enjoy the advantage of excellent
alternatives.  Are they are less risky,
than Muskrat Falls, in this super-heated mega project environment? They are.  

“What is
Uncle Gnarley’s solution? Uncle Gnarley asked, addressing the question to
himself, for he was determined that he not be diverted from his train of
thought.  I say, Nav, let’s revert to the
“isolated island’ option, as Nalcor calls it, but an enhanced version of that
option.  I am certain it is best for all
of us.

‘isolated island’ option allows power to be developed incrementally, as the need is proven, said
Gnarley, giving the statement added emphasis. 
It gives us time to better assess our ‘real’ power needs and get beyond
a labour market which has ceased to relate to unemployed Newfoundlanders and

“It affords
us time to properly assess the natural gas option and other alternatives.  It will keep us solvent through ‘risk
avoidance’.  It will allow us to reach
2041, with the provincial treasury intact. 

“Let’s develop
the remaining hydro on the island.  Island
Pond at 36 MW, Portland Creek at 23 MW and Round Pond at 18 MW wait to be developed.
Let’s build more wind.  The Joint Panel experts,
in reviewing Nalcor’s Plan, noted that our grid could afford up to 300 MW,
while Nalcor, for some unknown reason, has capped wind power at 80MW. 

“Let’s add combined-cycle
combustion turbine or CCCT plants to our energy mix, which use high grade fuel,
lowering our carbon footprint; let’s locate them in Holyrood, where the
electrical infrastructure already exists and is paid for. These Units are
designed to easily accommodate a secondary fuel; our options are then, never
limited. If our risk is also lowered, I believe the public will be content to
have oil continue, as part of our energy portfolio, as they have for the past
several decades.

introduce conservation; I know, Gnarley added wryly, it’s a novel concept, he
laughed, except that it does not fit the government’s political agenda, right
now.  I am coming to the end, Nav. 

“I say, let’s
reduce peak demand by differentiating the cost of power during different periods
of the year as well as during different periods of each day.  Current technology will allow us to reduce both
our ‘capacity’ and our ‘load’ requirements. Smart meters, developed right here
in this Province, can be part of that process.

necessary, let’s outlaw space heating, as Norway has done, and require the use
of heat pumps; if people were made aware of the efficiencies and savings
associated with these appliances, they would be grateful and compliant.

“All that we
can do now should be directed towards the goal of not taking on the risk
of the Muskrat Falls project. In a Province with fewer than two hundred thirty thousand
tax payers, we can’t afford that risk. 
So, let’s not do it!

“Let’s plan
for Upper Churchill power in 2041.

“If Nalcor is
determined to build a hydro project and Dunderdale, Kennedy and Marshall are
not smart enough to stop them, we can only hope that the bankers whose bonds
will finance this folly, will be unimpressed with a project that has to be
subsidized from the get go.  They just
might force the government to come to its senses!

With that
last comment, a tired looking Uncle Gnarley stood up and headed for the doorway.  He stopped abruptly and appeared as if he was
addressing every thinking adult in the Province:  “How”, he bellowed, “after all we have come
through in this Province and after having been given a second chance to make
things right with a few offshore oil wells; on what basis are we feeling,  suddenly, so


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?


  1. I like your plan, Uncle Gnarley. All of these approaches complement each other. But in priority I would put the last first: efficient heating. We presently waste about 600 Mw of our peak demand. That's about 40 percent. And in energy savings the percentage is even more. 600 Mw is twice the 300 Mw of wind you suggest( which is likey difficult to achieve) and about 8 times the local new hydro. And efficient heating is much cheaper than the new hydro or wind. But a balanced mix of all would be prudent. For energy efficient heating, put demand meters on all customers. we already do it for commercial. Regulate the demand charge while at the same time bring in generous rebates to encourage energy efficient heating. This will encourage small businees and those with regular and monster houses to convert. Very small house with little demand with not be penalized, if there is no demand charge applied below a reasonable level. Yes, in time , regular space heating( baseboard, duct heaters, in floor electric heat) should be allowed only as a back up to heatpumps that normally function through our cold snaps, without the need of firing up Holdrood. W.A.

  2. If you get even more frustrated Uncle Gnarly, you might enjoy my story where a techno-terrorist can't take it any more and destroys Muskrat Falls using beamed energy he tapped from a massive solar flare? I'm not advocating trying such a thing of course, just suggesting the entertainment value in fantasizing a bit about it! It's called, "The Tesla Terrorist", and is adventure story number three in a trilogy I called, "The Perils of Isolation." It's a $4.99 ebook on You can find it by searching on my name, Blair Wylie.