14 July 2010

The energy hub and the loose wheel

Summertime is the season when politicians get to travel.

For example, take the annual meeting of governors from the New England states and premiers from the six eastern Canadian provinces.  They got together from July 11 to 13 in Massachusetts for a series of meetings. 

Not much came out of the meetings  - there were a couple of initiatives they all agreed to implement  but then again, these things are seldom about solving big issues.  You can get an excellent sense of how little of substance ever gets done at these meetings by taking a look at the rather vague news release from the Premier’s Office on the meetings. And if that isn’t enough, look at the equally vacuous collection of scripted quotes issued by the four Atlantic Canadian premiers.  One of them, incidentally wasn’t even at the meeting, but he did get included in the quote-fest.

Much like trade shows, these sorts of big meetings are not the places to cut deals.  They are the places to sign deals worked out well in advance.

For example, Maine and Nova Scotia signed an agreement during the meetings to work jointly on development of ocean energy.  That’s tidal power or wave power.

New Brunswick premier Shawn Graham even got a public endorsement from three New England governors for the proposed second nuclear reactor in new Brunswick. The governors of Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont support Lepreau 2.  In fact, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri thinks that nuclear energy must be part of the mix for the region’s future energy supply.

Heck, even away from the conference regional energy deals are in the news. Nova Scotia Power and New Brunswick Power are working a deal on the 4200 million intertie upgrade Bond Papers mentioned last week. Daewoo will be building a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Nova Scotia, as well.

Conspicuously absent from all this concrete talk of energy deals is the place its own premier now describes as “a significant energy player” in North America. 

Not energy hub.  That job is now taken by New Brunswick.

No longer an energy warehouse.

Just a player, albeit a supposedly significant one, whatever that means.

The only specific reference to a project or initiative in Danny Williams vague news release was to the Lower Churchill.  As readers of this space know, this project is now pretty much dead in the water.  Mo markets, no money and  - especially at an estimated cost $14 billion and counting - no sign of anyone willing to underwrite the whole thing. It is now obviously what it always has been all along:  a mere political prop.

That’s what comes of putting every egg into a single basket. While other jurisdictions are allowing many different ideas to move simultaneously, the current administration in Newfoundland and Labrador is sitting as an obstacle to innovation. It’s obsession with a single megaproject  - laid down in the official energy policy itself - prevents other ideas from getting any serious consideration.

Newfoundland and Labrador is being rapidly left behind in energy development.  Despite abundant energy, a skilled work force and ample resources, new energy developments are happening somewhere else. Compare Grand Falls-Windsor to Trenton, Nova Scotia, for instance.  The wind turbine plant is expected to employ 120 in its first year and upwards of 400 at peak. What’s likely to happen any time soon in the central Newfoundland town?

The Maritime provinces are becoming an energy hub.  Newfoundland and Labrador is looking more and more like the loose economic development wheel.

The cause is flawed policy.

- srbp -