Guest Post by PlanetNL
PlanetNL40: Nalcor Gone in Name Only
Misrepresentation of Fact Still A Problem
After the Commission of Inquiry into the Muskrat Falls Project,
ratepayers and the public at large might have reasonably hoped and expected
that the Utility would change its stripes and try straightforward honest truth
for a change. Apparently, it is a tough
The recent changes to restructure the Executive ranks and the
elimination of the Nalcor side of the business brought a glimmer of hope for
real change. The signals are already
there, however, that not much will change in how the utility interacts with the
public regarding Muskrat Falls and anything connected to it. Which just happens to be almost everything
After deeply exposing the readily apparent fraud of a project
and the rot within the Executive ranks, the Liberal Government elected in 2015 should
have demanded a total renewal of leadership.
The organization needed to do a 180-degree turn from spouting lies and
propaganda to becoming one that would be sworn to absolute brutal honesty going
The Liberal Government should also have ordered Nalcor to pause
or slow the project to re-evaluate the project’s economic merit knowing that
the sunk costs would likely have been less than the cost of finishing it.
After those steps, they should have called the Commission of
Inquiry. The Liberal Government did none
Instead, they passively allowed Ed Martin to quit as CEO, replaced
him with Liberal-friend Stan Marshall and merely had him try to stabilize
things, keeping virtually all of Martin’s team in place, and carrying on with
the project without any proper reconsideration of alternatives.
After waffling on for two full years, only after public
criticism mounted against them. the Liberals called for the Inquiry. That allowed roughly another two years to
lapse in which they again did practically nothing but see the project other
than allow the project to continue on.
Finally in July of this year, the Liberals presented their long
awaited rate mitigation plan. It will
bury the ratepayer in additional debt and promises to raise rates for 50 years. Now there was a winner of a plan worth
Despite Muskrat being the largest policy bungle in the history
of the Province (and likely all of Canada), the now 6-years old Liberal Government
has let the project play itself out in disturbingly slow motion. Despite the need for change at the Utility,
they’ve changed fewer lead characters than Coronation Street. The retirement of Stan Marshall earlier this
year has finally allowed the cast to be tightened up somewhat although at least
a couple of the flawed characters exposed in the Inquiry were allowed to remain.
The reduction of executives last month, from a bloated eighteen
down to eleven, was certainly long overdue and more in line with other
comparable utilities. That two core
players from the era of intense Muskrat deception, however, survived this
executive restructuring is stunning and damning. Is there honestly no one else of reasonable
competency to promote from within the ranks or that might have been sought from
outside the organization?
|Jennifer Williams, NL Hydro CEO|
That decision by the new CEO, promoted in June of this year,
Jennifer Williams surely had to have been run past the Board of Directors and Government before
being finalized. Such deliberate
compromise is the mark of subservience to political power. Shame on them.
If that is how it happened, Williams is something less than an
independent clear-minded CEO, than an actor on a short leash, limited to
addressing talking points delivered by her political overlords.
Further problematic evidence of this was delivered by Williams
and her team in a press conference last week.
In this CBC News story,
the following information appears:
technical briefing, representatives from N.L. Hydro said the province gets
about 30 per cent of its power from the Holyrood power plant, and about $200
million is typically spent on fuel annually, depending on the price of
When running at
its peak during winter, the plant burns about 18,000 barrels of oil daily.
The key figures cited here were for public information and therefore
should be simple indisputable facts.
Instead, they are way actually off base are intended to mislead the
public. Williams is using the old Nalcor
playbook to distort the facts as necessary to please Government.
Williams should have relied on clear facts from recent Nalcor
Financial Statements and not been afraid to interpret the trends readily
apparent in the data.
Let’s break them down.
Firstly, the assertion that the province gets 30% of its power
from Holyrood is not correct. Holyrood at
full output represents about 19% of the total pre-Muskrat combined Labrador
Interconnected System and the Island Interconnected System (IIS). Remove Labrador and Holyrood is a maximum 24%
part of the IIS capacity. As 20MW or
more is used at the plant itself, the net contribution to the grid reduces
those figures by 1%. Rounding up the Holyrood
maximum capacity, to 30%, is reckless abuse of the facts.
In discussing “typical” usage, when the remainder of the grid
is working properly, Holyrood seldom runs all 3 generating units at full
power. Normally 1 or 2 units can handle
the daily winter load fluctuations and the third unit is either not on at all
or is simply on at a reduced level just as reserve. In recent years, even that has become scarce
with only a limited number of high-load winter days (and just hours within
those days) when Holyrood is called upon to deliver more than 15% of the total
IIS load. That condition exists for just
the period of December to March and it appears set to continue to shrink.
Likewise, Holyrood’s share of energy production for the IIS is
as equally important as looking at its share of power capacity. In 2020, Holyrood produced just 14% of total
IIS energy consumption. It was only 1-2%
higher in 2019 and 2018. In the first
half of 2021 there is an even sharper downward trend with Holyrood output down
to ¾ of the same period in 2020. While
that is partially due to the refinery being warm-idled and some general
Covid-19 loss of demand, we can be confident that even if those issues did not
exist, Holyrood would still be delivering less than 14% of IIS energy.
Just in case CBC misunderstood power and energy (as many do) in
preparing their article, any inference that Holyrood represents 30% of either is
The matter of fuel typically costing $200M is also way off
base. The 2020 Annual Report shows last
year’s No.6 fuel cost was $143M. It was
$151M in 2018 and $196M in 2019. It
exceeded $200M only in a few prior years but this was when other system constraints
existed that forced Holyrood to work harder.
Hydro spent hundreds of millions to fix those transmission constraints
and a key benefit is less reliance on Holyrood.
With those constraints removed and demand having clearly fallen in 2020
and 2021, making reference to typical costs of $200M is purely a matter of deliberately
misrepresenting present-day reality.
In the first half of 2021, not only is fuel consumption down
by 25% but the average price of fuel decreased by 16%, yielding a $38M reduction
in cost year-over-year. If fuel costs in
the second half of 2021 were to rebound to the same as 2020, the total 2021
fuel cost projection would be about $105M. Since when does an expected cost of about
$105M justify telling the public it would be $200M?
Finally, the bit about Holyrood burning 18,000 barrels of fuel
per day is a very atypical number to quote.
If the plant had to run all three generating units at full power for 24
hours, then that indeed would be the expected fuel consumption but it happens
so infrequently it just isn’t a material fact.
It’s a condition that becomes material only if there is a lengthy and a major
IIS generation or transmission outage forces Holyrood into flat out 100% operation
for days on end. That is a rare and unexpected
Only true “typical” numbers based on real data should be
presented such as how the plant consumed 1.7 million barrels of fuel in 2020. Dividing by 365 days, that’s an average of just
under 4700 barrels per day or 26% of the peak rate Hydro chose to quote in
their press conference. As the plant is
running only about half the year, the average through the operating season is
in the ballpark of 9000 barrels per day, 50% of peak rate. Keep in mind that in the first half of 2021,
consumption was well down from that level.
Many of us will spend much more time watching a single Netflix series in
January than the plant will run at full power.
Why is Hydro presenting their alternative atypical facts and
trying to pass them off as typical?
Because the enormously expensive Muskrat Falls is the elephant
in the room. It took a lot of
distortions and lies to create Muskrat and it will take a bunch more to pass
off Muskrat as a viable part of the utility system going forward. Fundamentally, all Hydro can do is attempt to
play up the one good thing Muskrat might do which is reduce Holyrood fuel costs.
Presenting badly skewed numbers is a tactic we had hoped was a
thing of the past. Clearly the new Hydro
is turning out to be not that different from the old Nalcor.
Instead of hyping irrelevant numbers to the public, Williams
could have simply said that based on the cost trends in recent years and their
plan to use Holyrood at lower capacity levels and for a shorter season than
ever before, and if a steady supply of Muskrat energy is maintained, fuel
consumption at Holyrood may drop by up to 60%, or one million barrels, for cost
savings in the vicinity of $70M. The
number for the long term will be the same as either Holyrood must continue
operations to maintain reliability on the Avalon Peninsula or a new set of gas
turbines must replace it.
It certainly looks like it will be a long wait before Hydro will
make such a clear statement. The Hydro
Executive mandate remains to shamelessly exaggerate Muskrat benefits and play
down its impossible costs.
These latest abuses of fact show prove that it’s déjà vu all