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.
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”.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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
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.
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
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!
for Upper Churchill power in 2041.
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!
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 invincible”?