27 February 2011

Irresponsibility of power: Dunderdale flip flops on Muskrat electricity rates

My, oh my what a little public angst over electricity bills will do for a government’s talking points.

The public angst has turned up in Labrador where a who mess of people are concerned they won’t get any of the benefits of the power and yet will wind up paying for it instead.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale zoomed into Happy Valley-Goose Bay late last week to reassure the unhappy valleyians on a few things.

Among the things she talked about was electricity pricing.   According to the Labradorian, Dunderdale said that Labradorians would not see rate increases once Muskrat is on line.

Fair enough.  They will still be getting powered by diesel along the coast since it is apparently too expensive to sling off lines to the coastal communities from the giant lines that will run right along the coast to get the power to Newfoundland.

“The responsibility of power will be charged to the people who use that power,” she said.

Garbled sentence to one side, that “responsibility of power” would not fall to Nova Scotians.  They’ll pay whatever Emera wants to charge them and Emera is getting its power from Muskrat for free if the final deal turns out to be the same as the one Danny Williams inked in order to catch his plane to retirement.

That “responsibility of power” would definitely be the people on the eastern end of Newfoundland. They are getting the power and will have to bear the full load of the cost and potentially more more besides even though they really don’t need it. 

And how much will they be responsible for?

That’s where Dunderdale went wobbly.

Last fall, natural resources minister Kathy Dunderdale, later morphed to be premier, was absolutely adamant that the Danny Williams Legacy Dam project was absolutely wonderful.  It was splendiferously necessary, sayeth Dunderdale, because by 2017, electricity prices in the provinces were going to skyrocket thanks to the price of oil. 

She even had a number she swore by:  120 American bucks a barrel, sustained, by 2017 and as much a 200 bucks a barrel within the next decade. And with crude running at those sorts of prices, it would be damn expensive to generate electricity at Holyrood. Enter Danny Williams Legacy Dam to save the day.

Some of you may recall her interview last November with CBC radio’s West Coast Morning Show.  Your humble e-scribbler even wrote about it for those who don’t normally tune in to the show:

Dunderdale claimed that electricity prices would increase an average of five percent each year from now until 2017. That’s the year Nalcor would supposedly bring Muskrat Falls on line. So electricity prices would be about 35% higher than they are now, according to Dunderdale.

And then on top of that you’d have to whack on the cost of Muskrat Falls power which Dunderdale estimated to be between 14.3 and 16.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

But with all the public concern over rate increases, Dunderdale is now not so sure about her projections.  As the Labradorian reported:

“The project is not advanced enough at this point to determine with that degree of accuracy what you are going to pay per kilowatt hour in 2017.”

She said at the average rate of increase of 5 percent per year, Newfoundlanders could expect to get about the same bill on current power in 2017 as they would under the Muskrat Falls hydropower with similar rates of increase.

Not advanced enough to determine with that degree of accuracy.


And yet last fall, Kathy had great confidence that the prices would be exactly as she described.  After all it was the absolutely concrete, cast-in-stone, sure-as-Danny-made-little-green-apples certainty of the energy price forecasts that justified upping the gross public debt by about 50% of its current level.

And now Dunderdale can’t be sure what domestic electricity prices will be when the dam is finished in 2017.

That’s a gigantic change in just a few short weeks.

Expect more changes if the public starts paying more attention to what Danny Williams Legacy Dam will cost them.

- srbp -