07 October 2015

Alternatives to the Falls #nlpoli

Since people are wondering if Muskrat Falls really is still the cheapest way to make electricity for local use,  let’s take a look at it.

The tale is actually very simple.

Nalcor argued that Muskrat Falls was cheaper than one alternative:  an island system dependent on thermal generation using some sort of petroleum fuel like the heavy stuff burned at Holyrood.

Now that wasn’t true even in December 2010, as this SRBP post noted at the time. Even if you accept the contrived studies used in 2012 to justify Muskrat Falls,  the massive cost increases for the project have made the Falls more expensive than the alternatives. 

The only advantage Muskrat had over thermal (oil) was fuel and those prices have gone in one direction:  down.  Since you can build a new thermal plant near to the demand source, you wouldn’t need the expensive connections to the mainland.  That all works for oil-fired generation and against Muskrat Falls.

Oil prices have plummeted in recent months and are forecast to stay low,  Muskrat Falls’ only advantage is definitely gone.


06 October 2015

The smallest details tell the biggest story #nlpoli

Last week, provincial fisheries minister Vaughn Granter held a news conference at a local restaurant known for its seafood dishes to announce that from now on, that restaurant and even ordinary consumers could buy fish.directly from a fisherman without facing any legal problems.

That may sound a bit odd to some people but truth be told the provincial government has for decades banned direct sales to consumers.  Ostensibly it was based on concerns over public health but in truth it was just another way the government tried to control the hell out of the fish business.

Wonderful news.

But the really fascinating detail was buried away in Granter’s speaking notes.

05 October 2015

Consumer electricity costs to jump by 59% due to Muskrat Falls #nlpoli

The average consumer in Newfoundland and Labrador should expect to be paying 59% more for electricity compared to their current  rates once Muskrat Falls comes online.

A household that current pays $156 a month for electricity (not including HST, basic charge or provincial rebate) will see their monthly charge increase by $94 a month with Muskrat Falls included.  Those calculations use Nalcor figures and current domestic electricity rates.

Former Premier Danny Williams, the man behind the project, dismissed the cost increases for the project as “mouse droppings” and nothing more than the “cost of doing business.” 

Nalcor boss Ed Martin said last week that consumer prices would go up by an additional seven dollars a month due to the most recent increase.  Martin didn’t explain that those calculations were merely the added costs from the latest increase added to Nalcor’s earlier forecast based on cost over-runs.  What Martin also didn’t say was that Nalcor’s calculations started from an assumed price that was significantly higher than actual consumer rates at the moment.

02 October 2015

Hyping the stock, yet again #nlpoli

Any oil company seriously interested in bidding on an exploration license offshore Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t likely to need the hyped presentation by the provincial government Thursday.

Exploring offshore is expensive.

Always has been.

Always will be.

Exploring beyond the 200 mile exclusive economic zone, in upwards of two kilometres of water, just makes the oil and gas all that much more costly. to find and more costly to produce.

01 October 2015

Muskrat Falls commercial power by Q2 2019 ? #nlpoli

The latest progress report shows that Nalcor had a productive summer, but an extrapolation by the researcher and writer  JM of information in the latest progress reports points to first power from Muskrat Falls in September 2018 and full commercial power by the middle of 2019.

In at post at Uncle Gnarley, JM described the challenge facing Nalcor in 2015:

As correctly noted in the March 2015 oversight report the productivity improvements in Q2 2015 are essential to meeting the final milestone schedule.  For the Muskrat Falls team, the summer of 2015 is really “make or break” for the project.  They need to get the project back on track before the construction schedule is hampered yet again by another Labrador winter. Winter begins earlier in Labrador than it does on the Island. The project team knows this.  The questions is this:  is the productivity improving at a pace where the schedule can be recovered? [sic]  If Nalcor have any hope for schedule recovery they must first start meeting their originally planned productivity targets.  In the July 2014 schedule, they planned to complete about 6.7% of the project in Q1-2015.  With all their mitigation measures, Nalcor should be looking for about 33% complete by the end of June.

30 September 2015

Pride and Failure #nlpoli

‘”Pride is a big factor”  a manager at Muskrat Falls told the Telegram’s James McLeod on Monday during the latest media junket to the Big Dig North. People come to work every day and say “I built this.”

Pride is the essence of Muskrat Falls. 

Go back to 2012.

All the business people who looked forward to making a fortune off the project never talked about risk, profits, cash flows, return on their investment, and other stuff you’d expect business people to talk about.

They say stuff like “We believe in good things for our province.”  Or “… we believe we have the courage to harness the opportunity before us and make these things happen.”

29 September 2015

Rumpole and the Family Compact #nlpoli

Sixteen of the province’s 22 full-time provincial court judges are either already in or are on their way to St. Andrews, New Brunswick.

They are in for a surprise.

They’ve headed to New Brunswick for the annual meeting of provincial courts judges of Newfoundland and Labrador, called a few months ago by Chief Judge Mark Pike to coincide with the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges.  As recently as 10 days ago, Pike was still finalising the agenda.

Surprise:  now Mark won’t be there.
Pike quit very suddenly and unexpectedly on Monday.  And just as quickly and just as surprisingly,  Attorney General Felix Collins announced Pike’s replacement.  It’s Pike’s wife, Pamela Goulding, a former head of the Crown prosecution service who is the third most junior judge on the provincial court bench.

The judges won’t be surprised by that appointment. 

It’s par for the course these days.

28 September 2015

White is the new black #nlpoli


Stephen Harper said that his party had a program that would help change the dependence in Atlantic Canada on government spending, a dependence that had led to what he called a “culture of defeatism.”

That’s the actual phrase, by the way,  “culture of defeatism.”  Not a culture of defeat as some politicians have put it in the innumerable times since 2002 that they have used that phrase against Stephen Harper in a federal election campaign.

25 September 2015

The N-word #nlpoli

New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair likely never imagined that an insult he threw at a couple of Parti Quebecois politicians in the Quebec National Assembly 20 years ago would come back to haunt him 2015.

Liberal candidate Nick Whalen likely never imagined that reminding Mulcair of the word he used – “Newfie” -  would rob Mulcair of whatever coverage he’d hoped to get out of his campaign stop in St. John’s.

But it did. 

Then the controversy over Mulcair’s remarks carried on for another two days as New Democrats whined and complained  about the whole issue.  That only served to keep it going.

And to make sure the story didn’t die,  two national pieces  - Colby Cosh (National Post) and Evan Dyer (CBC) – weighed in.  Cosh and Dyer picked up on the context of the original comment and that’s where things stared to get really interesting.

24 September 2015

That's Doctor King to you #nlpoli

Not surprisingly, Darin King has decided to leave politics after only eight years.

King is just the latest in a long line of pensionable Conservatives who have decided it would be better to quit politics now with a fat pension rather than risk sitting on the opposition benches for a few years.

If he is remembered at all, King will stand out among his colleagues in the current Conservative administration for two reasons.

23 September 2015

Crossing Topsail Road #nlpoli

A new high school has put the better part of a thousand young people on Topsail Road opposite a raft of fast food outlets and a major mall.

Young people will cross Topsail Road, a four–lane major thoroughfare in St. John’s.  it is dangerous.  Things will get more dangerous.  City council is thinking about building a pedestrian walkway way over the street so pedestrians don’t have to cross at street level.

The pedway will be costly.  Some people don’t like the cost and suggest that some other, far less expensive measures would do.  Those people are wrong and here’s why.

22 September 2015

Three things about Hurricane Igor #nlpoli

hard to believe but it has been five years since Hurricane Igor ripped through Placentia Bay and into Trinity Bay.

What stands out most about those events today is the same as it was at the time.

First, the devastation was astounding in every respect.

Second,  the resilience of the people affected by the disaster was amazing.

Third the capacity of senior government officials, politicians and bureaucrats alike, to polish their own knob without any justification remains as appalling in 2010 as it was at the time.

21 September 2015

No race in Avalon, except for the truth #nlpoli

Tom Mulcair will not be coming back to Newfoundland and Labrador again during the current federal election.

He certainly won;t be coming back to visit Avalon and he will only be back if there is a sense that Ryan might actually have a shot at winning St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.

The only other reason he might come back is if he had a candidate in a fight for a seat.  The latest poll from Mainstreet Research confirms what dedicated political analysts have known for some time:  there is no race in Avalon.  Liberal Ken MacDonald is miles ahead of any of his rivals. 

The New Democrats are a distant second.

“Distant” means the Liberal candidate is out front by more than two to one either in decided voters or if you add leaning to the decideds.

Les vrais newfies #nlpoli

Sometime late in the last century, Bloc NDP leader Tom Mulcair said something in the Quebec National Assembly about Newfies.

Mulcair apologised for the remark during his campaign stop in St. John’s on Sunday, and well he should

“Newfie” is a slur. Even if it is used by people from Newfoundland, the word is still offensive. In some sense, It conveys an attitude about the place as being one so destitute that people leave it in droves for a better life.   In another sense, it conveys an attitude about the people as buffoons. 

So Tom apologised and, as far as that goes, we should hear no more of it.  What we should continue to discuss, though, is the rest of what Tom had to say.

18 September 2015

Cabinet control of Crown corporations #nlpoli

Hearings at the pubic utilities board revealed that senior executives at Nalcor received hefty bonuses again in 20914 as they have in other. 

Ostensibly, they are a reward for achieving corporate performance targets. Given that Nalcor has had some serious problems with its capital works and maintenance program over the past decade, it is rather surprising to see people getting great gobs of cash while the company hasn’t been performing.

Ostensibly, the bonuses are part of a compensation package that keeps the company competitive.  That’s how Nalcor chief executive Ed Martin justified the compensation now that we understand they are the chief cause of the cost increases Nalcor is using to justify its request for an increase in electricity rates this year.