RATE MITIGATION: FUREY’S DECEPTION

As much as Premier Furey proclaimed, alongside
PM Trudeau, that Newfoundland and Labrador negotiated a successful “rate
mitigation” plan, no deal was struck that even slightly got the “Muskrat off
our back”.

The plan simply does not contain the elements required
to protect the public from unaffordable energy costs – except for just a few
years. Then the problem will have only grown bigger. 

It is disappointing that the media were taken
in by the propaganda and hoopla generated by the PM’s visit, reminiscent as it
was of the manner which they treated Danny Williams’ announcement of the Muskrat
Falls project in the first place.

Neither the Tory Opposition
nor any other group, including the Consumer Advocate and Memorial’s Business School, offered any analysis
or follow up. Little wonder this place is called the Happy Province!

Reporters don’t
write the propaganda, of course; they only regurgitate it. 

What was the public’s
takeaway other than that “rates will not double”, as Furey stated. If it was that
the Federal promise of $5.2 billion had reduced the monstrous millstone of a
$13.1 billion project, who could blame them? Except that it would be wrong.

Did the Feds put “some”
money on the table to assist with “rate mitigation”? The answer is “yes”, and
“some” is the operative word. 

Phots Credit: CBC

Problem is, most people have no idea what “mitigation” really means to their wallets, or how difficult it is to raise the more than $1 billion needed annually in addition to the costs of the current electrical system. Ratepayers having been exposed only to the warnings and not to the reality of the costs. 

The Feds offered two
categories of assistance. First, it eliminated the 0.5% charge which Nalcor was
required to pay as a service fee when the Federal Loan Guarantee was raised from
$5 billion to $7.9 billion.

Second, the Feds claim
to have offered $3.2 billion under a category of revenue called the Hibernia
Net Profits Interest (NPI) benefits. Ostensibly it is a sum held back from the
2019 Hibernia Agreement. It is forecast to be paid annually over 26 years at the rate of $123 million to 2047 except in year one of commissioning when the payout is estimated at $191 million*. No information on the NPI was offered in the Province’s Technical
Briefing to inform the basis of the calculation, its sensitivity to oil prices,
or at what production/price level there is no profit.

The NPI is not even mentioned in the Agreement in Principle (AIP) between the two governments.

You can be sure, however,
that lower oil prices will mean less profit, the balance of which will come
from you. The issue is significant because, if received, the sum is estimated to lower
power rates by 2.3 cents/kWh.

Outside of those two
specific initiatives – neither of which tackles the $13.1 Muskrat Falls project
debt – the remaining measures include $2 billion of repayable loans and the rescheduling
of other debt payments. $1 billion replaces – but does not repay – maturing
debt.  Muskrat’s debt weight just increased by $1 billion.


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Get more details on the province’s rate mitigation scheme in this post by Planet NL:

Rate Mitigation: Dr. Furey’s False Diagnosis

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The agreement also calls for an
increase in power rates to 14.7 c/KWh starting this year, and annual rate increases
of 2.25% thereafter. After promises of 13.5 c/KWh – including from both
Premiers Ball and Furey – Island residents, especially seniors and retirees on
fixed incomes, can brace for energy hardship.

The annual increase of 2.25% is a fiction anyway. Remember, when there is a deficiency
of revenue to meet the capital and operating costs of the Muskrat Falls
project, the difference must be made up either from annual rate increases or government subsidies, except the latter is not an option.

There are other things
that Premier Furey did not tell you, having misrepresented the rate mitigation
scheme.

First, the rate offset
caused by the loan of one of those billions runs out after 6.5 years.

Second, Nalcor’s rate
forecasting “assumes” that demand for power on the Island will consistently
increase over the 50-year financing time frame. With up to 60% of Muskrat power going
to Nova Scotia at close to zero cost and other export revenue only miniscule, Island
ratepayers were always the target for rate increases when cost overruns and higher operating costs trigger the need for higher revenue.

A big problem is that local
demand has been slipping. Lower demand translates into higher rates to keep
revenues even. The costs of operating Muskrat are the same whether the power
is used/exported for a pittance, or the water is spilled.

Third, the $2 billion loan
funding was billed as an “equity” infusion in the LTA assets (the power house,
related infrastructure and TL to Churchill Falls). It was nothing of the kind.
“Equity” denotes an investment along shared risk. The funding is a loan
– repayable. The ratepayers retain 100% of the on-going risks of the Muskrat
Falls project.

Fourth, the interest on
the $2 billion additional loan essentially accounts for the jump from 13.5
cents to 14.7 cents/KWh. If you needed another signal who is on the hook for costs
that exceed revenues, you have surely received it.

Rather than actually
mitigating rates, Premier Furey has cut ratepayers adrift to deal with both the
exposed and the hidden features of Muskrat madness.
 

The hidden ones are not nearly as difficult to identify as the politicians might suggest.

Failed synchronous
condensers at Soldier’s Pond, problems in the Muskrat Falls powerhouse, structural
damages on the Labrador Island Link due to icing (like that which occurred last
winter), power interruptions due to incomplete software – all have very real cost
consequences.

Next, the Holyrood
generating station, as the main back up source for the Avalon, awaits additional major
upgrades which some estimate at $1 billion.

So, you think you have a
rate mitigation deal that takes “the Muskrat off your back”?

In short, all you have is a scheme
that protects the Prime Minister from having to answer awkward questions at a
time when the Federal Seats in NL are needed in pursuit of a majority
government.

If you need it spelled out
more clearly: Premier Furey has put the interests of the Federal Liberal Party
ahead of yours.

The Muskrat isn’t off your
back. The Feds have only helped delay the worst consequences – for now – as the
debt on the project grows.

From the National Post to
the Calgary Herald the Muskrat “bailout” was decried. Too bad their reporters are no
better informed than our own.

Equally shocking is that
the Premier has lost the moral basis for a nation-wide campaign to showing how the Feds were complicit in the Muskrat Falls affair and to justify a real bail-out. 

Instead, we have a rate
mitigation scheme that displays a Premier either dishonest or willingly sidelined by partisan politics.

Canada is warned that, if not this Premier, the next one will come calling – ‘cap in hand’ – once again.

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* figures revised based on new information August 23, 2021.

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.

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