28 October 2009

Williams miffed that HQ beat him to market again

In his written reply to Shawn Graham released today, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams reveals that his government energy corporation was in discussions to sell power to New Brunswick from the still largely conceptual Lower Churchill project.

But Hydro Quebec – with as much power as the Lower Churchill may one day offer already under construction -  evidently beat Williams to the punch.

The real  source of Williams’ frustration at news of a deal to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec is buried after six lengthy paragraphs of irrelevant frothing:

One of the potential impacts of Hydro Quebec’s dominance may be the premature cessation of current, good faith discussions between Nalcor Energy and NB Power to sell competitively priced Lower Churchill power to New Brunswick and jointly advance the long term, mutual interests of both of our provinces in conjunction with Nova Scotia and P.E.I. These discussions have not yet reached an advanced stage, so it is not possible to quantify the benefits that might be lost to our two provinces and all of Atlantic Canada if discussions are terminated. If New Brunswick narrows down its range of alternatives to a single-window with Hydro Quebec, full information may not be available to evaluate the opportunities that other alternatives may bring. I would reiterate that our province feels compelled to look into the potential of anti-competitive behaviour on the part of Hydro Quebec given the potential monopoly that could exist as the result of an agreement between them and NB Power. [Emphasis added]

The revelation that Williams had been beaten to the market by Hydro Quebec is almost as astonishing as word last month from Williams energy minister that he had been working for five years, making secret offers for Hydro-Quebec to take an ownership stake in the Lower Churchill project. 

Williams criticises the Churchill Falls deal in the Graham letter but, according natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale, Williams was willing to set the issue to one side in exchange for Hydro-Quebec buying a piece of the Lower Churchill.

In 2006, Williams rejected a proposal from Ontario Hydro and Hydro-Quebec to jointly develop the Lower Churchill.  Williams said the province would go-it-alone.  He made no reference at the time to efforts to lure Hydro-Quebec into another deal, as Dunderdale revealed.

Hydro-Quebec already had significant hydro projects in the works and added about 4,000 megawatts of wind energy to its mix of new project.

The Lower Churchill proposal currently undergoing environmental review consists of transmission through Quebec and a line to bring power from the project to eastern Newfoundland.  There is no proposal in public to run the power to New Brunswick.

The Lower Churchill project  - estimated to cost between $6.0 and $9.0 billion – has no confirmed markets.  An opening to Rhode Island apparently fell apart because power could not be delivered at a marketable price.  That isn’t what the energy minister told the public.