posted “SMALL POPULATIONS AND GUT WRENCHING DECISIONS”, Corner Brook was not on
my mind as I considered the position of declining populated island communities. Yet, two comments, left on the Post, conveyed
the innovative thinking of two writers who saw a ‘win win’ for the Province and
Corner Brook in Kruger’s hydro capacity.
Winston Adams, a local Professional Engineer, said “(w)e need that power
for winter heating of our houses, but…not…in the other 8 months, when the mill
would use it”. He added, “This power…is
a big piece of an island solution for our power needs”.
was JM, who has written extensively on the Muskrat Falls Project and has made
several contributions to this Blog. JM echoed the views of Adams:
to both the Corner Brook and our (Province’s) electricity requirements is
looking us in the face. The mill should operate 8 months of the year. From
December 1 to March 31 the mill should shut down. Kruger should sell the power
from Deer Lake into our grid. This combined with the Upper Churchill RECALL
power, would hold us over to 2041. It would likely also provide Kruger enough
revenue to keep the mill alive. We would also save $3 billion in the
construction of Muskrat Falls”.
have been enriched by the pulp and paper industry. Few would do or say anything
to hasten its demise. While any such debate may seem ‘water under the bridge’,
given Muskrat sanction, the public might expect our resource industries to
prosper, in a way that permits us to calculate benefits rather than the costs.
support to the woods industry has a long history. My own first encounter was in 1978 when I was
preparing a Speech the then Premier planned to give in the West Coast City. A briefing note, from the Dept. of Forestry, outlined
various supports the Government offered to that sector. They included funding for ‘silviculture’
(forest thinning and growth control). I was unfamiliar with the word then, though
I never forgot it; more overt methods of support came later.
I was still
on the 8th Floor, in 1984, when Bowater handed in its notice, to
Brian Peckford, following which Kruger became a household name; an early crises
was averted, with $100 million from the Government.
saga has endured for 29 years, a good run.
It did not happen without subsidies, lay-offs, deals on power, the ‘indefinite’
shutdown of #4 Machine in 2009 and almost annual temporary closures of mixed
duration. It has been a rough saga.
Stephenville paper mill closed in 2005. Grand
Falls followed in 2008.
2012, Kruger Inc. announced it would close in the absence of wage and pension concessions
and a “take-it-or-leave-it” contract.
The Province, petrified that it might make good on its word, committed further
assistance from the Government, if the workers agreed.
Press Reporter, in a wire story dated June 20, 2012, captured the sense of
exhaustion over the promise of yet more support for the Mill:
this is money that goes down the drain,” Gabriela Sabau, an economist and chair
of environmental studies at…Grenfell Campus, said from Corner Brook. “This is a
dying mill. It’s not going to be revived in any way,” without a massive
was Michael Wernerheim, an economist at Memorial University who agreed with
Sabau’s assessment. Said he, “I realize
the extent of the economic devastation that this is going to wreak on, first of
all, the workers that are directly and indirectly affected at the mill…the continued
subsidization…diverts productive resources to ends that are not the best.”
some critics of the Muskrat Falls Project, who recognized the potential of
Kruger’s hydro power, were accused by the current Minister of Natural Resources,
a Corner Brook native, of hoping that the Mill would fail. Never a strong Cabinet Member he has worked
hard for Corner Brook even if his analytical skills are questionable. The Minister might have stopped to consider that,
just possibly, better alternatives existed which might secure greater longevity
for Kruger and better electricity options for the Province, too.
the pessimism of the Economists referred to, I doubt that the Province could
deny Kruger the promised $90 million “loan”, not that anyone thinks it
will ever be repaid. Joe Kruger is not a
stupid fellow. His business savvy would alert
him to Government’s failure to obtain a ‘quid pro quo’ well before Muskrat’s
sanction. He would recognize his position was one in which, for at least the
next four or five years or for as long as the Government remains under the
‘spell’ of fiscal happiness, continued financial support will not be denied
Adams and JM, were commenting upon an “island solution” they were arguing that Kruger
possessed all the ingredients to satisfy the Province’s “peak” power needs in
the most demanding months of the year.
They recognized that a deal with the Province would not only have secured
much of the revenue to save the jobs of the Mill; it would have undercut any
argument in support of the ‘whole’ Muskrat Falls development. As JM states, the
Government might have limited the investment to the transmission line only; it
would have been able to bring remaining low cost ‘recall power’ to the
I asked JM to
take a look at the arithmetic to help define how Corner Brook Paper might be
assisted by the arrangement.
referenced a Study submitted to the PUB indicating that Kruger’s Deer Lake
Power Plant produces 879,000 Megawatt Hours (MWhr) of energy per year. Assuming a four month shut down of Corner
Brook Paper, this would indicate 290,000 MWhr of energy available to the island
of power displaced at Holyrood, and costing 120 $ per (MWhr) to produce, is
equal to $35 million a year.
value, of about 50 $ per MWhr, this would equal $15 million a year to Kruger; still
a nice annual subsidy.
(link and generation) to be delayed by 3 to 4 years until after the current
resource boom, and when the future of the mill is better known. He could have added that it would have given us time to
assess the fast changing U.S. energy market and await receipt of Husky Energy’s
feasibility study into the potential of offshore gas (a story for another day).
Alternatively, there is still the ‘isolated island’ option
which, with additional time and less myopic thinking, Deer Lake power might have confirmed. Alternatives to Muskrat Falls we were not
As Adams and JM suggest, the $90
million ‘loan’ to Kruger could have had far wiser underpinnings.
is nothing wrong with JM’s math, it must be remembered that because Deer Lake
power offers the potential to save the Province billions of dollars and the
ability to shield us from significant construction risk, the award to Kruger for that power could have been more generous than
JM’s numbers suggest; likely, given the value of the trade-off, the deal could
have facilitated the Mill’s much needed modernization scheme. Its future and the solvency of the Province could have been favourably and
such ideas could not come from a Government that wanted Muskrat Falls at any price.