During my two years of review of Muskrat
Falls, I have often asked myself what future generations will think of the
project. What will be public perception
of the engineering, the economics and most importantly the political debate
which surrounded it?
articles, and VOCM call-in programs are all recorded for posterity, how will future
generations of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians view the leaders of today? In particular, what will they say about the
execution of their responsibility to safeguard the interests of the tax
Will the critics including Vardy,
Penney, Martin, Sullivan, and Hollett be viewed as fear mongers, visionaries or
simply as democrats? On what side of
history will they lie?
Despite all assurances from the experts,
time will produce a final arbiter of the economic merit of the project. The final construction costs, combined with the future
world price of energy, and the power demands of the Province will constitute
the most quantitative parts of that evaluation.
the legacy of the present day critics, I am certain that future political
scientists will study how our democratic institutions were tempered, in order
for the project to proceed.
democracies strived to increase transparency, public engagement and political accountability,
Newfoundland and Labrador went against the grain. Under any unbiased examination, the
democratic legacy of Muskrat Falls will certainly fall upon the wrong side of
solely on the current Progressive Conservative government. When the previous Liberal administration excluded the Lower Churchill Project from the purview of the Public Utilities Board, in
a slippery slope began to take
shape. It was the beginning of a process
of excluding the project from normal democratic controls. That process was key to ensuring transparency
and accountability in the expenditure of public funds.
Although the Liberal’s conceived the
project under a shroud of secrecy, it was a different project than the current
version. The Liberals had a deal which
would see the larger Gull Island constructed first, with no immediate link to
the Island. Instead of being financed by
Newfoundland tax payers, it was financed through a power purchase agreement
with Hydro Quebec. The price was adjusted
for inflation and the deal included a basement price for Gull Island of
35$/MWhr. There was a distribution of
risk between the partners Hydro Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador
from power, in 2003, some $57 million of taxpayer’s money was already spent on
the project. The newly elected
Progressive Conservative Government noted a lack of normal oversight on the
procurement of certain services with direct intervention from the Premier’s
Office: A Government Press Release stated:
[Request for Proposals] was not followed for the selection and awarding of
contracts to several different law firms and to communications consultants. The
bulk of the legal services was contracted to Patterson Palmer Hunt and Murphy
at a cost of approximately $2.7 million, with a further $915,843 spent at
Chalker Green and Rowe/McInnis Cooper. The communications costs included
$461,000 to SNC-Lavelin and approximately $400,000 to Bristol Communications.
office as to which law firms and communications companies were to be hired to
carry out the required work,” said Minister Byrne
project lacked the proper governance expected of a Crown Corporation.
launched the Energy Plan. The initial legislative
vehicle was the 2007 Energy Corporation Act which “established an energy
corporation for the province”. The
Corporation was later re-branded “Nalcor”.
of the Crown Corporation to adhere to the Public Tendering Act, protected vast
amounts of sensitive information from the Access to Information Laws, and
limited the powers of the Auditor General to review the activities of Nalcor. The Act was revised in 2008 to even further protect
Nalcor from being forced to engage the normal processes of public
largesse of the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Between 2006 and 2013, $1.4 Billion was
directly invested in Nalcor in the form of deferred dividends and direct equity
contributions. Those investments allowed
Nalcor to grow into a diversified energy company under the shield of secrecy
afforded by the Energy Corporation Act.
The evolution of Nalcor bucked the trend
for crown corporations in strong western democracies. The Organization of Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) is an international organization founded in 1961 to promote
trade, and economic progress. It is
committed to democracy, a market economy, and set best practices for economic
policies. Canada is a founding Member. To understand how out of step Nalcor and the Province
are with modern democracies one would do well to read the OECD’s recommended practice for Crown Corporations. Nalcor is far from the “model” the OECD promotes.
transparency, independence, and market competition, in Newfoundland and
Labrador our insular government has moved in a completely opposite direction. It has used strong arm tactics to ensure that
both Government and Nalcor (both unwittingly joined at the hip) were positioned
to proceed with the Lower Churchill Project.
Provincial Government intended that the Public Utilities Board was involved only in setting the power rates for the project. But,
contrary to the terms of the Electrical Power Control Act, the public would not
be permitted transparency on the question of whether Muskrat Falls is the
lowest cost alternative.
from the Canadian Environmental Agency forced the Government to refer the
project to the Public Utilities Board. Still,
the Government still did not permit a full review. The Maritime Link was removed from the terms
of reference and the reference question was limited to two options only. They included the Interconnected Case (with
Muskrat Falls) and the Isolated Island.
of the project, the terms of reference severely impacted the effectiveness of
the review. Simply put, the PUB was not
permitted the opportunity to review the deal as it was negotiated. Using narrow terms-of -reference and a ring-fenced
reference question, the Government attempted to railroad the PUB’s approval of
accountable and protecting tax payers, it became the primary accomplice for
limiting public review of the project.
very beneficial. It identified several
major shortcomings in the project. Most
startling, to the Author, was the manner in which Nalcor abandoned its own Gated
political challenge, due diligence is entirely reliant upon internal controls
solid business case presented; one which identifies all the risks and benefits of the
Nalcor employs a Gated
Management Process, which is a recognized method of planning large
projects. The project is divided into a
number of Phases divided by gates, or decision points. At each gate the status of the project is
reviewed and the criteria for proceeding are re-affirmed. The Process is usually facilitated by a
steering committee of senior management. The following Exhibit, from Nalcor’s
July 2011 Presentation to the PUB, is instructive:
The Gated Management Process initiated
by Nalcor in 2006 was used for the development of the Lower Churchill. Decision Gate 1, completed in February 2007,
was not used for the purpose of providing the lowest cost power to the Province. Rather, its purpose was to develop the Lower
Churchill primarily for export. The
Decision Gate 2 report, presented to the PUB (Exhibit 22), offered limited
discussion of alternatives to the project.
It engaged in even less discussion about project economics. It was purely a readiness review.
to abandon Gull Island (for export) and to proceed with Muskrat Falls,
ostensibly to meet the Island’s growing electrical requirement, the DG2 mandate
should have changed to examine all potential alternatives for meeting our
electrical needs. The principal outcome ought
to have identified the lowest cost alternative to NL ratepayers. Nalcor’s DG2 reports, submitted to the PUB,
showed little evidence of such analysis.
constituted not just a failure in Nalcor’s management processes; it contravened
its legislated responsibility under the Electrical Power Control Act. Nalcor failed to provide the least cost
option for NL ratepayers.
will view the DG2 endorsement as the critical failure point in Nalcor’s governance.
to withhold critical information. No update has been forthcoming on the total cost
estimate of the project in over 15 months.
The Crown Corporation has not yet responded to many critical questions such as those posed by Uncle Gnarley Blog.
Capacity and Energy which will be available to the Island once Muskrat Falls
comes on-line in 2017, and (ii) details of Nalcor’s commitment to Emera.
calculations, submitted by Nalcor, properly reflected the delivery of 167 MWs
to Emera during peak winter months. Was the
lowest cost conclusion based on getting access to the entire output of Muskrat
Falls during the winter? Is there sufficient
Capacity remaining for our own requirements once the 167 MW peak-period
delivery is made?
submitted to the PUB, did not include the 167 MWs, how will the Island’s peak
requirements be met in winter? What is
the potential impact on the rates?
be answered by Nalcor. If the 167 MWs
was excluded from the lowest cost analysis submitted to the PUB and endorsed by
Manitoba Hydro, it would undermine the entire process.
by Nalcor. They can be validated by the
public release of the Power Purchase Agreement signed between Nalcor and
Newfoundland Hydro to fulfil the requirements of the Federal Loan Guarantee. The
fact that such an important agreement has not been released is
part of the ongoing PUB review reflect these same questions. Other are outstanding regarding the
reliability of the island system once Muskrat Falls comes on-line and Holyrood
again, limiting the release of this information.
PUB’s Pre-hearing Conference:
the fifth item proposed by Newfoundland Power regarding the potential review of
measures to ensure reliability after commissioning of Muskrat Falls and the
Labrador Island Link, we believe that that matter is beyond the appropriate
scope for this review”
Mr. MacDougal – Legal Counsel for Newfoundland Hydro
it in the best interests of tax payers that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro petition
the PUB to exclude Muskrat Falls from ongoing review by that Agency? Hardly. NLH is essentially prolonging both the Government’s
and Nalcor attempt’s to limit public scrutiny of critical decisions they have
taken. These questions are inextricably linked to
huge financial obligations to which the public is now committed.
Power demands a more detailed assessment.
The Company evidently recognizes that its corporate image is at risk five
years from now when domestic rates must bear the Muskrat Falls project, the
third line to the Avalon, and the third line to Labrador West. Rates will increase considerably. If Holyrood must stay open beyond 2021, and
undergo further upgrades, our power rates will be even higher.
we await the decision of the PUB we must wonder what Chairman Andy Wells is
thinking? Will he limit the scope of the
review as requested by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro? Will the PUB make the right decision and
review the reliability of the system post-Muskrat Falls? Will the PUB permit the public their first
opportunity to truly understand the impacts of the Maritime Link?
Provincial Government, Nalcor and the critics, including this Author, will
eventually be judged by history.
as it conducts an investigation into matters relating to the security of the
Island’s power supply, including the events that caused the ‘black-outs’ of
early January, the PUB is challenged to be on the right side of history once again.
one has ever questioned that Agency’s independence. The issue outstanding is whether we will be
left to question its courage.
judgement of history awaits us all.
Editor’s Note: This Post was written by “JM”, the anonymous researcher, writer and
presenter, to the PUB and in local Blogs, on the Muskrat Falls Project. JM has written a
number of Uncle Gnarley pieces, including, most recently, Gnarley’s Theory of Political Devolution, Parts I and II and The Great Revolutionaru From the Shore. One of his latest Papers is entitled: Muskrat Falls Revenue Stream: Fact or Fiction. JM has also submitted most recently to the PUB a Paper entitled: Underestimating Peak Load and the Potential Impact on the Muskrat Falls Solution. To recent readers to Uncle Gnarley Blog, who may be unfamiliar with “JM”, I would say that, while circumstances require his anonymity, you will be impressed with the depth of his analysis on many aspects of the Muskrat Falls Project. Also, look for his Presentation to the PUB which formed part of that Agency’s analysis of the Muskrat Falls Project – Des Sullivan