31 May 2010

Lower Churchill cost estimates skyrocket

Touted in 2004/05 at under $4 billion, Premier Danny Williams referred to the Lower Churchill in the House of Assembly on Monday as a “a $6 billion to $12 billion project.”

Williams insisted though in other comments in the legislature that from “a perspective of the cost, I can tell you that this particular project is the lowest cost, the cheapest hydro-electric project in all of North America.”

In another response he repeated the claim:

Mr. Speaker, I just said it before and I will say it again. This is the lowest cost hydro-electric project in all of North America. That is equivalent to – could deal head on with La Romaine or any other projects that come on stream from Quebec.

That’s an odd statement since Hydro-Quebec’s La Romaine project, announced is 2009, is estimated to cost $6.5 billion.  The Lower Churchill has not yet been sanctioned and the provincial government’s energy company is still picking its way through cost estimates and route analyses.

The original expressions of interest package for the Lower Churchill - released by the provincial government in 2005  - is no longer available online from either the provincial government or its energy company but the government’s estimated cost  - $3.3 billion - is contained in a report compiled by TD Economics at the time.

The provincial government cancelled the expressions of interest process in 2006, preferring to “go-it-alone”.  With the cancellation of the EOI process, the provincial government effectively rejected a joint proposal from Hydro-Quebec and Ontario Hydro to develop the project in co-operation with the province.  That proposal included upgrades to transmission capability to Ontario which would have been borne by the Ontario and  Quebec partners.

Once Williams rejected the proposal Hydro-Quebec turned to Plan B.  That involved development of about 4,000 megawatts of wind energy within Quebec and another 4,000 megawatts of hydro power from new projects all within Quebec.

The go-it-alone option also didn’t turn out that way even after Williams rejected the proposal.  As natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale revealed last September, Danny Williams and others spent five years in secret talks trying to lure Hydro-Quebec into a deal on the Lower Churchill.  In the process Williams abandoned his previous commitment that he wouldn’t cut a deal with Hydro-Quebec on the Lower Churchill unless it involved redress for the 1969 deal that led to the development of Churchill Falls.