On July 12, 2014 the CEO of Nalcor wrote a
Letter to the Editor which was entitled “Muskrat Falls Remains the Best
Option”.   Its intent was clearly to counter
some of the recent discussion about the final costs of electricity within the
province.  Unfortunately, it did little to
remedy my concerns about where electricity rates in the province are heading. 
We should begin with a simple clarification.  Nalcor CEO, Ed Martin quoted that:

“In 2018, electricity rates for households on the island are
projected to be 16.4 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), which is about $249 for an
average monthly bill, approximately half a cent higher than the rate estimated
at sanction of the Muskrat Falls project (15.9 cents/kWh)”
Unfortunately,  Mr. Martin is not correct.  

At project sanction the rates projected by Nalcor was 15.2 cents/kwhr. 

Therefore, the
increase from project sanction is 15.2 to 16.4 cents per kwhr, or about 7.8%.  This is not a major discrepancy, but
unfortunately it continues to undermine Nalcor’s credibility when it comes to
rate projections. 

The next
sentence in the letter contains the following:

“Looking out to 2020, electricity rates will be around
17.3 cents/kWh or about $262 for an average monthly bill. This includes
anticipated rate increases with Muskrat Falls in service and all planned
capital projects by Hydro on the island
This statement provided slight comfort as
it confirmed that the cost for the third line to the Avalon was correctly
included in the projections at project sanction[1].  However, we ought to ask: does the phrase “on
the island” imply that the planned third line to Labrador West is not included
in these rate projections? 

Nalcor continue to obfuscate the discussion
about rates by not providing clear language within these public releases.   Why, I wonder, can they not simply release
to the public a detailed assessment of how the rates are calculated?  

All Nalcor need do is release a basic excel
file detailing the items what items are included in the calculation, and their cost.  This information would be of enormous
assistance to interested parties.  It will
eventually be released to the PUB, so why not now?

The very next sentence within the release
was perhaps the most disconcerting:

“When Muskrat Falls is fully operational and our province is powered
almost exclusively by renewable energy sources, rates will stabilize for
customers, increasing on average around one to two per cent per year”       
To the casual reader the statement may seem
innocent, almost comforting.  However, it
represents a major departure from the original plan.  Part of the argument for Muskrat Falls was
that rates would stabilize over time. 
Following the initial rate shock, prices would effectively stay the same.  With the passage of time, inflation would
ensure that the real cost of electricity would decrease. 

As far as the Author is concerned, this was the only real reason
to proceed with Muskrat Falls.  Over
time, the unit rates would decrease in real dollars.  Now Nalcor are projecting that following the
initial 46% increase in electricity rates (2011 to 2017)[2]
rates will continue to increase 1-2% each and every year!  This is best communicated graphically[3]:

Nalcor should be challenged to immediately
verify this statement regarding rate projection.  If true, it
reflects a major departure to the rationale for the project. Indeed again, if true, it
suggests the online rate calculator, provided at DG3, was incorrect and
misrepresented the benefits of the project. 
Likely, it implies that the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) has been
adjusted to further backload the cost recovery of the Muskrat Falls project.

Nalcor has never had a consistent message
when it comes to the pricing of the Muskrat Falls project.  Since the DG2 decision they have refused to provide
the public details about the stand alone cost of Muskrat power delivered to the
Avalon Peninsula.    

Nalcor need to clear the air, share the
numbers, and let people have transparency. 
Nalcor need only to look to their partner for such guidance.  Emera’s submission to the UARB is a benchmark in public disclosure, and education.  

Nalcor need also to provide visibility on
the additional sensitivities which will potentially have a further, dramatic
impact on the rate projections.  These sensitivities were assessed by the Author in Volume 11 of the discussion paper series  and are again provided to the reader:

               *    Hydro Quebec are successful in
their declaratory judgement regarding the                   
           interpretation of the 1969 Power

                      *   Third line to Labrador West
which government has advised will be partially recovered 
                 by the island
                 * Vale and other industrial
customers are provided energy at a lower, subsidized rate.

               *    There is a 5% reduction in the
amount of energy used, due to the massive increase in   
                 the price of energy in
the province.  Price will impact demand.  

      Nalcor’s strategy, to date, has been to
becloud the issue of what this project will ultimately cost, and the nature of the
real risks to the Island ratepayer. 
public should not accept such a situation.

Given the size of the expenditure and
Nalcor’s behaviour, it is not difficult to see why Muskrat needs greater public
oversight.  Indeed, Nalcor’s abysmal record
of meeting project estimates should demand it. 

[1] If the reader references Figure 4 of Volume 11 of the JM discussion paper series “Consumer Electricity Prices From Muskrat Falls” there is a slight peak on the “existing asset cost” from 2012 to 2016.  Can it be assumed that this is the cost associated with the third line?

[2] Rates are 11.2 cents per kwhr in 2011.

[3] The sources of information are:  DG2 data is from PUB-Nalcor-5 provided on the PUB website; DG3 data is provided from the table referenced above; Current projections is based on the July 11 letter to the editor.

(Editor’s Note: JM is the anonymous author of a 175 page Submission to the Public Utilities Board (PUB) entitled:Muskrat Falls – The Benefits of a Phased Development. He has also written Labrador Mining – A Reason to Rethink and Upper Churchill – The Unexplored Alternative.  He has written several Posts for Uncle Gnarley Blog. His latest Paper,  Consumer Electricity Prices From Muskrat Falls, is in my view, the best analysis available as to the impact on residential electrical rates of the latest overruns at Muskrat Falls, additional transmission lines and an additional 100 MW generator at Holyrood.)  


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. "Nalcor continue to obfuscate the discussion about rates by not providing clear language within these public releases. Why, I wonder, can they not simply release to the public a detailed assessment of how the rates are calculated? "

    I can not believe that in a project which is 100% funded by the people of the province that this request needs to be made. The political systems should not allow such a massive public expenditure, without this information being made public. Why is the leader of the opposition not making this very same demand?

    This is an excellent post

  2. Martin says the rate of 17.3 cents for 2020 includes all planned capital projects for the island. The most recent is the third line to Western Avalon at 297 million. Yet that application says further line upgrades are needed soon, and applications to the PUB will follow. Some wood pole 230 kw lines are near their end of life. One of the two lines coming east from Western Avalon will overload if one line goes down and both lines together have a capacity of only 518 MW. This means blackouts if the Muskrat Falls bipole line is down, since the 465MW from Holyrood will not be available, once decommissioned. In that situation, the eastern Avalon can only get half of the power needed here from our 230 kv island lines. The third line as far as Western Avalon helps Vale Inco and the refinery, but makes no provision east of there. Does Martins figures allow for the additional line upgrades, and a third line east of Western Avalon I wonder. Somehow I doubt it.

  3. As a slightly informed, and younger taxpayer, this is one of only dozens of issues I have with this project. It seems that most of the people that are for this project are older, knowing they will never be alive to really worry about the price increases. And the more I read the more annoyed and peeved I get.