18 November 2010

Muskrat Love

To help you get ready for the splendiferous announcement later today, here are some things to keep an eye on.  Undoubtedly, there’ll be more spin than a baton twirlers’ convention riding on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party ride at Disneyworld.

Just keep your head and you won’t get nauseous.

1.  Ready for a better tomorrow.  Just remember that tomorrow is a day that never seems to get here.

There have been memoranda of understanding before that came to naught.  Remember 1998?  Brian Tobin and Lucien Bouchard dropped a half million to announce not only a Lower Churchill deal but a reworking of the Churchill Falls project as well.  Result:  Nada.

Then there was the memorandum of understanding to sell 200 megawatts of power to Rhode Island.  That fell apart because NALCOR couldn’t deliver the power to Rhode Island at a price anyone could afford.

Don’t forget Frank Moores’ big explosions on either side of the Straits.

And as we look at a likely memorandum of understanding between NALCOR on one side and the Government of Nova Scotia and Emera on the other, let’s not forget that NALCOR already has one:  signed in January 2008.

If this isn’t a concrete deal to start work soon, then Thursday’s announcement can all evaporate as easily as the others did.

2. Cost.  The lower the number the less likely it is real.  CBC’s David Cochrane mentioned a figure of $4.0 billion.

The line from Muskrat Falls to Soldier’s Pond, just outside St. John’s came with an estimated cost of $2.2 billion in 1998. That would be close to $3.0 billion today.  There’s an estimate of the Nova Scotia line that runs between $800 million and $1.2 billion. Take the upper one just to be on the safe side since proponents tend to underestimate megaproject costs big time. So just the lines alone are likely to cost more than $4.0 billion.

A 900 megawatt project in British Columbia (Site C) is coming with a $6.6 billion price tag so it is safe to work with a cost estimate for this project of around the same amount.

The 70/30 debt-equity ratio NALCOR boss Ed Martin has mused about publicly would give you a borrowing requirement of around $4.0 billion.  There’s David Cochrane’s number.  The rest of the cash would come from NALCOR’s small equity stakes in three offshore projects, unless Emera is coming on board with an ownership stake.

3.  How much is being exported?   A couple of weeks ago 60% of the project’s estimated 800 megawatts would go to Nova Scotia.  According to reports on Wednesday, 60% of the power is now coming to the island and – here’s the kicker – the island portion of the province doesn’t need it.  However, NALCOR does need the captive market in Newfoundland to help underwrite the massive project.

Keep your eye on this one because it will tell you how expensive electricity will get in Newfoundland and Labrador. As it looks now, things are lining up to prove Danny Williams was right when he said last fall that “…good, cheap, competitively priced energy, can't be offered to that whole region.” 

4.  Environmental process Day Zero:  As regular readers already know, this thing will have to go through an environmental review with a whole new section never before considered.

5.  Holyrood.  For some unfathomable reason, no one seems to want to believe NALCOR’s own words on Holyrood:

It is important to consider that whichever expansion scenario occurs, an isolated Island electrical system or interconnected to the Lower Churchill via HVDC link, Holyrood will be an integral and vital component of the electrical system for decades to come. In the isolated case Holyrood will continue to be a generating station; in the interconnected scenario its three generating units will operate as synchronous condensers, providing system stability, inertia and voltage control.

The diesel plant at Holyrood will not be shuttered, mothballed or otherwise displaced or taken offline.  To the contrary, it will run 24/7/365 but at a reduced capacity. Holyrood will be an “integral and vital” component of the province’s electrical system.

- srbp -