Nalcor CEO Ed Martin has confirmed the Muskrat Falls Project is undergoing “cost pressures” his statement will likely become repetitious.

His early
trip to the confessional is more than just an affirmation that ratepayers and
taxpayers will be bitten; it is an admission of that Agency’s incompetence for
having pursued a foolish project in the first place. 

If Ed
Martin’s guarded revelation (he won’t say how much over-budget)
was made mid-way or near the end of the Project, just possibly the public
might experience some solace that the damage is containable.  But the Project has barely begun.  The project is already a year behind schedule. 

Nalcor is
struggling to stave off disaster.

Proof that the Project is off the rails is
slowly emerging. Appendix “A” of the Independent Engineer’s Report 
 contains a summary of anticipated award dates for the Major
Contract Packages.  The dates were
summarized for the original DG3 schedule and the forecast schedule of August,

When you compare
the Independent Engineer’s August  2013
schedule with the actual status contained in the February 2014 Monthly Report, 
 it is clear that Nalcor is unable to stay on schedule. 

That ability to meet deadlines is fundamental to the success of the construction business. It is really the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for identifying the costly problem of delay.  The schedule is rarely
improved during construction.

Independent Engineer (IE) was wise to point out that Nalcor’s schedule was too
aggressive given the large project’s remote location.  The IE indicated a range of 5 to 7 years.  Nalcor’s schedule was based on 5.25 years. 

The question
is this: are the delays identified by Ed Martin the result of
proactive planning to reduce costs, or are they the result of Nalcor
consistently not meeting its project milestones?  Is the lower cost argument purely ‘spin’ used
to mask the evident under-performance by his project team?

Ed Martin
advanced the idea that he was prepared to modify the construction schedule to
save money.  Even if true, he could not
have meant “savings” as you and I define them. 
He must have meant ‘savings’ in the context of a worse

How much more would a one year delay in completion of Muskrat Falls cost?

Professional Engineer, one familiar with large-scale
Projects, offers this computation:

          ~$300 – Interest During
Construction (IDC) including interest paid by the Government on its      

                       equity contribution to Nalcor
(which shows up as Provincial debt).

             ~$30 million
– direct management costs.

             ~$20 million
– site costs. 

Total:  ~$350
million additional cost for one construction year. 

Ed Martin is
going to spend ~$350 million as a cost savings measure? I don’t think so.

Ed Martin seems to be a person more into ‘voodoo’ economics than widely accepted principles like ‘time value of

Wednesday, April 30th the Telegram reported him saying delays in the
Muskrat Falls project won’t add to the interest to be paid on Nalcor’s $5 billion construction

Martin is pretending he
is a home owner who simultaneously pays rent and interest while his house is
being built except Martin wants you to believe the extra year’s rent don’t
add to his project costs. 

We should worry when public servants also engage in ‘spin’.

A delay in
Muskrat Falls robs the project of cash flow every day commissioning is delayed,
depriving the Company of revenue that can be applied to interest and other

Nalcor, like any other
business, must capitalize ‘interest during construction’ (IDC). It is a
cost feature of the Project – no different than labour and materials.  In Nalcor’s case, the additional cost is recaptured via your
power bills. 

In that connection Martin failed to note he has not disclosed the Power
Purchase Agreement (PPA) which will determine the power rate you will be
charged to pay off the cost of Muskrat Falls. 
That means the PPA can still be changed at any time.

What is more, a 1 year
delay seems now to be a best case scenario.
  The same Professional Engineer who reviewed these delay costs suggests a more likely
completion date is early 2019.

Ed Martin is not alone in the ‘spin’ department.  He is joined by Natural
Resources Minister Derrick Dalley.

The Minister
stated Nalcor has no liability to pay penalties for failing to supply the
Maritime Block until Muskrat’s completion. He omits the fact that all such
contracts contain a “time is of the essence” clause“.  This is a statement of warning to the
contracting parties that performance is expected within the proscribed period
of time failing which damages may be claimed by the injured party.

Emera will not be prepared to sit for long on
its $1.5 billion investment in the Maritime Link without compensation.  It is possible that Emera is behind schedule,
too.  But, don’t expect full disclosure,
on these issues, until a general election is out of the way.

Minister Dalley
also failed to mention the impact of a delay on the Energy Access Agreement
(EAA).  That’s the sweetened deal Nalcor
gave Nova Scotia in order to obtain the NS UARB’s support and to trigger the Federal
Loan Guarantee.   

The EAA is a
24 year Agreement under which Nalcor has committed a cumulative total of 28.8
TWh of electricity (in addition to the Maritime Block).

specifically runs until 2041 and legally requires Nalcor to supply virtually
all its so-called surplus or ‘market-priced’ power to a maximum of 1.8 terawatt
hours (TWh) or an average 1.2 TWh annually over the 24 years. 

In order to
achieve the cumulative total of 28.8 TWh during the Term, the minimum offering
to Emera of 1.2 TWh will have to increase because the contract period is naturally shorter. 

Unless Nalcor
and Emera have entered into a side deal, one not released for public
consumption, Emera may invoke a Condition called “Variance” in which Nalcor is legally committed to 75% of its electricity obligation.  (“THE NEW DEAL WITH EMERA: WHAT WILL NALCOR THINK OF NEXT?” offers an explanation of the EAA and the Variance  Clause.) 

will all that power come from?




In a
nutshell, any delay in the Muskrat Falls Project is serious. The additional commitments to which Nalcor has obligated us will further challenge our
pocketbooks and our patience.

For now, though, the masters of political ‘spin’ want those problems to escape public notice. 
It could have something to do with the timing of the next general

Now, that might be a far better reason why time is of the essence!

Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


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. Every day brings more discouraging, but not unexpected, news on the abysmal failure that is Muskrat Falls and more evidence of the political and business incompetence within both NALCOR and the provincial government.

    The costs will continue to escalate and we are nowhere close to the end of these spiralling costs. That the provincial government can continue on with its unconscionable effort to forge ahead with this project says much about the lack of accountability and integrity within this administration. Any objective assessment of the costs will give any thinking person pause for concern and I have to wonder why all of these backbench MHAs continue to champion a project which is likely to wipe them of the political map. If that were not enough to obliterate them, the recent shenanigans of the PC Party to choose a new leader and Mr. Coleman's "hidden" campaign does not auger well for their fortunes.

    But, as I have repeatedly stated, the damage is still containable if they were to choose to shut the project down…even now. Not a great scenario to contemplate but, faced with an economic catastrophe by completing it, the choice is obvious! The province would be far better off to stop this madness even now. I am not optimistic that this administration will summon up the decency and courage to do so…but one can always hope.

  2. During the January blackout when it was apparent that our electrical generation was in disrepair I was screaming at politicians that we should never have sunk any money into Muskrat Falls until we had our present electrical grid up to 100% efficiency. There was at least one who listened to me. Now with all the talk lately from the Nova Scotia Energy Minister and CEO of Emera stating that Nova Scotia has nothing to worry about if Muskrat Falls is delayed. They make it plain and simple that Nalcor will pay for any power they have to find from another source. Of course here in NL we don't know what the hell is going on, Ed Martin can't give us a straight answer, nor can any Tories.

    The other day Cabot Martin was on VOCM and he said something interesting; the Maritime Link is not getting it's juice from Muskrat Falls but from Bay d'Espoir. Hmmmm. During the January Blackout Ed Martin said there was no need for a 3rd line from Bay d'Espoir, as some people pointed out would have solved some problems. But now, suddenly they are looking install that 3rd line after all. They are also going to do some work at the Exploits Dam and wanting to put in a new generator at Holyrood.

    Am I being paranoid thinking that they are doing all this, what they called unnecessary work, to add some extra generation and distribution for Nova Scotia? Tell me I'm mental because I don't want someone to tell me my rates went up to ensure Nova Scotia got the contracted juice they are to receive on time and I'm not buying that bullshit about spilling it or selling it.