Guest Post by PlanetNL
NL15: Forensic Audit Only Scratches Surface of Sanction Costing Errors
serious doubts about Nalcor’s pre-sanction justification for the Muskrat Falls
project. The report indicated enough
areas where weakly constructed assumptions would add up to show that the Muskrat
Interconnected option would not be the least cost alternative compared to the remaining
Isolated Island option.
gotten just what it asked in terms of the forensic audit’s time and budget
limitations from a team with little experience in electricity utilities. The story is not yet complete enough and the
Commission should pursue reconstruction of Nalcor’s cost models using an
extensive revised set of assumptions developed by an experienced utility
consultant. It’s a significant
undertaking but one that appears essential to allow the Commissioner to
concisely explain the project’s economic fallacy.
was their November 2011 submission to the PUB following their so-called
Decision Gate 2 stage. Nalcor’s DG2
estimate used the Cumulative Present Worth technique to roll up the two
alternative projects under review and declared the Interconnected option
(Muskrat) was better by $2.16 Billion.
While a DG3 revision was issued in 2012, DG2 represents a better
baseline for comparison as most of Nalcor’s decision making was already
complete at that stage.
We won’t repeat those findings here but we will raise the concern that if
more issues were tackled by the auditors and the Commission, the CPW analysis
would likely swing substantially in the other direction in favour of remaining
an Isolated Island.
issues and their impact on the CPW analysis nor do their findings to date seem
to add up to the known actual overrun. Perhaps
the remainder of cost overrun they intend to show was a collection of execution
errors in post-sanction engineering, construction and project management.
several areas of major concern in the CPW analysis and asserts that the overruns
were primarily pre-sanction estimating errors.
This post relies on high level industry benchmarks and analysis to show
that not only was Nalcor’s CPW estimate drastically wrong, including benchmarks
that align with the project’s updated cost projection.
Cost Error – Labrador Island Link
A detailed report from the Western Electric Coordinating
Council, an alliance of utilities operating throughout 14 US-western states
plus Alberta and British Columbia, details the costs of AC and DC transmission
lines and DC converter stations. While
dated 2014, it is assumed similar earlier reports were available in the industry
that could demonstrate consistency in costs.
The report indicates base unit cost for flat land construction
of $1.56M/mi for high voltage DC transmission.
A range of multipliers are provided for different terrain: “forested” is
the highest at 2.25 which may be the best factor for the LIL conditions. DC substations are estimated at $490M each.
substations, using the forested factor for transmission line construction, the
base budget should be [688 x 2.25 x 1.56] + [2 x 490] = $3.4B. Perhaps 2010 cost estimates may have been a
little less, however, the estimate here excludes adders for the Strait of Belle
Isle subsea crossing and the synchronous condensers at Soldier’s Pond and
Holyrood, plus cost escalation for multiyear construction. This is also a $USD estimate, however, in
2010 at DG2 the dollar was at par, therefore some exchange rate risk could be
LIL, excluding finance charges, is $3.7B.
The WECC-based estimate turns out to be essentially right on the money. It is interesting that no Labrador cost
increase factoring is required in this instance, perhaps as many key materials
could be competitively sourced from outside and also because the methodology of
the contractors involved came largely from the WECC region.
as presented before the PUB in late 2011, at just $2.06B (excluding finance
charges). Surely better information was
available and the lowball estimate cannot be justified. The Nalcor DG2 estimate for the LIL should
easily have been about $1.5B higher.
Cost Error – Generating Station plus Labrador Transmission Asset
hydro generating station costs at $3200/kW (note the EIA figure is specifically
for 500MW+ plants). Although it is a 2014 report, this figure is consistent
with additional reports not cited for the period around 2010.
premium for on site construction costs.
Knowing the circumstances of the other megaprojects in the province,
including the highly relevant IOC expansion started in 2008, large scale
in-place construction work – ie. you can’t buy a dam and truck it in – are
typically more than double. The
components and modules that could be bought from outside the region don’t need
factoring. A minimum average factoring
of 1.5 would be entirely appropriate with 15% contingency besides if only for
exchange rate risk and multiyear cost escalation.
= $5520/kW, multiplied by the 824MW capacity, the anticipated cost would be $4.5B
before adding finance charges.
AC transmission line connected to Churchill Falls 250km (156mi) away. The WECC guide used in the LIL analysis above
indicates flat land construction cost of $2.08M/mi. Using the forested factor again, the LTA
could be predicted to cost [156 x 2.25 x 2.08] = $0.73B before financing
charges are added. A massive new transformer
substation at Churchill Falls was also part of the LTA scope that is likely costing
well in excess of $100M (more precise data could not be found in the time
available to prepare this post).
for the generating station to be $5.5B and the LTA $0.9B. The cost estimates above derived from WECC
benchmarks is no less than $5.3B. Again,
these quick real-world estimate assumptions would have been very accurate.
generating station including the cost of the LTA. Not only did they not price
in local construction premiums but they went considerably under WECC
numbers. Remove the LTA cost, Nalcor may
have priced the generating station at under $2500/MW, less than half what they
should have carried. Nalcor’s DG2 estimate
for these assets should have easily been $2.5B higher.
and Maintenance Error
In June 2017, Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall updated the project
O&M assumption from $34M per year to $109M.
The WECC generating cost table above included a recommended O&M allowance
of $30/kW-yr. This excludes all
transmission asset O&M which must be estimated separately. Given Muskrat’s 824MW rating, the expected
cost is $25M/yr. At DG2, Nalcor
presented to the PUB an O&M estimate of $13M for Muskrat generation and
$14M for transmission.
transmission assets to not expect these expansive assets to cost only
$14M/yr. There was never a basis for setting
O&M at $27M/yr at DG2 (or $34M/yr at DG3).
The tripling of O&M costs
applied over the 50-year term of the CPW analysis was not calculated by Grant
Thornton but likely would have increased the CPW of the Muskrat option by $1B.
Load Forecast – Impact on Isolated Option Assumptions
Last year, Stan Marshall also released the second downward
revision of the Nalcor load forecast, dramatically pared down from what Nalcor
presented at DG2. This is critical to
the Isolated Island CPW calculation as Nalcor used the huge load growth to
justify burdening the Isolated Island Scenario with a costly series of new
generation plants above and beyond Holyrood refurbishment. They chose mostly fuel-fired thermal plants which
allowed the additional error of excessively high oil price forecasts to be
a complete re-run of the modelling performed by Nalcor. It is guesstimated, based on DG2 sensitivity
analysis figures, that the latest Nalcor forecast would drastically reduce new plant
builds and improve the CPW of the Isolated option by up to $1B.
In addition, fuel cost was the majority of Nalcor’s CPW estimate
for the Isolated scenario at just over $6B, most of which was needed to satisfy
the false load forecast increases. Adjusting
for the huge reduction in fuel quantities required and relaxing the inflated pricing
even a little might well lower the Isolated CPW by $3B.
available to fully address in this post such as Nalcor’s refusal to include effective
Conservation and Demand Management, to allow for higher levels of wind energy
penetration, to effectively recognize elasticity behaviour and to foresee
additional evolutionary steps in technology that would yield further load
reductions, even lower than Nalcor’s latest forecast revision.
the Cumulative Present Worth Projections
Just the few easy to find items quantified above make a
massive change to the DG2 CPW numbers presented by Nalcor. The summary table below shows that the
revised CPW analysis would favour the Isolated Island option by nearly
$7B. Muskrat would not only have failed
a more accurate DG2 analysis, but it surely would have been eliminated at the
preliminary DG1 screening stage in favour of other less evaluated alternatives.
Isolated Island Option
Nalcor DG2 (PUB 2011)
Forecast error on capital requirements
Forecast error on fuel requirements
Potential Revised DG2 CPW estimate
$2B in total adjustment bringing the difference between the two options to
roughly zero. Besides not calculating the value of certain items,
it appears their analysis does not sufficiently step outside the box of
Nalcor-supplied information. Relying solely
on Nalcor’s pre-sanction documentation and the review opinion of Manitoba Hydro
International, an organization afflicted with many of the same flaws as Nalcor,
may not be able to sufficiently expose the poor decision making.
It may be necessary for the Commission of Inquiry to hire a
professional energy industry specialist firm, like a Liberty Consulting, to take
all the steps needed to thoroughly reconstruct pre-sanction cost
estimates. Then, only by fully remodelling
the CPW analysis using reasonable and foreseeable costs will the first phase of
the Inquiry have an opportunity to find the true magnitude of costing errors.