Tuesday was not a good day for anyone trying to figure out what the provincial government is doing with Muskrat Falls.
First of all, let’s go with the basic stuff.
CBC reported on Monday that the provincial government will use a 1999 amendment to two laws in order to exempt the Muskrat Falls project from scrutiny by the Public Utilities Board. Specifically, the PUB won’t be able to look at Muskrat Falls and determine if it is the lowest cost project as provided in the Electrical Power Control Act (1994). CBC’s report included confirmation of the exemption from the province’s natural resources minister, Shawn Skinner.
That part is pretty clear.
CBC’s report on Monday and Tuesday night made a couple of references to changes to legislation tied to the Lower Churchill project. Take this one from the online story as an example:
The exemption actually dates back to 1999, when Brian Tobin's Liberal government passed legislation exempting any Lower Churchill project from PUB oversight.
*Insert nasty horn sound effect*
It is hard to imagine being more obviously wrong.
As your humble e-scribbler recounted in another post, the change Kathy Dunderdale and crew are relying on happened in December 1999. Tobin’s project was pretty much dead by that point although the politicians still talked about it like the corpse could move.
Then-energy minister Roger Grimes made it clear the changes to the Public Utilities Act and the Electrical Power Control Act, 1994 were intended to cover other projects - not the Lower Churchill at all - that might have to come along to fill a gap if the line from the Lower Churchill to the island didn’t happen before the island needed extra power.
That ties to Kathy Dunderdale’s claim in the House of Assembly:
It was their government that exempted the Lower Churchill proposed project of Premier Grimes and at least two of the people opposite to have an exemption from regulatory review.
She’s talking about an order-in-council, apparently: a cabinet decision.
But then Dunderdale claimed that previous Liberal administrations had exempted every hydro project since 1995.
Minor problem: the Electrical Power Control Act, 1994 didn’t allow for any exemptions at all. In fact, the 1994 legislation set the provincial energy policy and gave the PUB the power to make sure that, among other things, their decisions “would result in power being delivered to consumers in the province at the lowest possible cost consistent with reliable service…”.
The PUB got the power to reject a project, order producers to build the lower cost project or even reallocate power from existing projects like Churchill Falls to meet provincial needs.
Exemptions don’t fit with that commitment to protect consumers and to exercise proper control over provincial resources in the public interest.
You can tell Dunderdale was mightily confused on this whole matter because a few minutes after she made the claim about exemptions when exemptions didn’t exist, she said that:
“Mr. Speaker, not only in 1999 did they bring in the legislation allowing for an exemption; in 2000, they produced an Order-in-Council that exempted the Lower Churchill from review by the PUB, Mr. Speaker.”
1995 or 1999?
Which is it?
Then there’s this contradiction from Skinner’s confirmation that the PUB will not be looking at this project to determine if it is the lowest-cost option:
We have engaged the PUB to review and to determine whether that is the case as well and make that information available to the people of the Province, Mr. Speaker.
So apparently the PUB will review the project but it also won’t review it.
Let’s see if more accurate information surfaces in the next few days.
- srbp -