Whenever anyone moans about the 1969 power contract with Hydro-Quebec they can thank the last four Premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador – from Beaton Tulk to Kathy Dunderdale – for guaranteeing Hydro-Quebec’s unaltered command of Churchill Falls power.
In order to hide her own financially disastrous Muskrat Falls megaproject from public scrutiny, Kathy Dunderdale is using a cabinet order issued in December 2000 when Beaton Tulk was the placeholder Premier between Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes.
Take a look at the order – Regulation 92/00:
3. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is exempt from the Electrical Power Control Act, 1994 and the Public Utilities Act for all aspects of its activities pertaining to the Labrador Hydro Project as defined in section 2.
But how is the Labrador Hydro Project defined?
That’s where you get to see the gigantic mess that Tulk started and the rest have continued.
The exemption order doesn’t just apply to the Lower Churchill and all the transmission facilities associated with it, as most people assume.
Here’s the very first thing included in the definition of the “Labrador Hydro Project”:
… generation and related facilities at Churchill Falls , Labrador
In one clump of eight words, cabinet destroyed any power the Public Utilities Board had under the Electrical Power Control Act, 1994 to manage electricity in the province to make sure that ordinary citizens get the cheapest possible electricity.
Under the EPCA, 1994, the PUB was supposed to be able to review electricity generation in the province to make sure consumers don’t get wallet-raped in order to have heat and light to their homes. Newfoundland Power or Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro could ask the PUB to review demand and supply in the province.
As then-Premier Clyde Wells put it in 1994:
[The Electrical Power Control Act] authorizes the Public Utilities Board to redirect any power - any power, no exceptions - to meet the needs of the people of this Province. Not expropriating anything from anybody. It is to manage the power that is generated in this Province in such a manner as to first and foremost meet the needs of the people of this Province. It makes no specific reference to Upper Churchill. It makes no specific reference to power companies. It makes no specific reference to any individual generator of power.
But with Churchill Falls exempt from the Act, those sections of the Act that would protect consumers are useless.
Kathy Dunderdale can get on open line and talk all she wants about legal opinions that warn against using powers under section 92a of the Constitution Act, 1982. Truth is there is no risk: there are no powers since she and her current cabinet colleagues decided to to uphold the December 2000 exemption.
Tulk and his cabinet may have signed them away, but every cabinet since then has endorsed them. Kathy Dunderdale and her cabinet are actually proud of their decision.
It gets better, though.
In the fall of 2000, the provincial government issued a series of orders that exempted every major hydro-electric project on the island portion of the province from the EPCA. Those exemptions still exist even though several of the projects are now owned entirely by Nalcor as a result of the 2008 expropriation bill.
What that means for consumers is that Nalcor alone can decide what it wants to do with those sites. Even if there was plenty of electricity available for Nalcor to meet provincial needs at the lowest possible cost without building Muskrat Falls, there is no way the Public Utilities Board could force Nalcor to halt the megaproject and do the sensible thing.
Once a line to Nova Scotia flows through, Nalcor can ship discount power out of the province from its island generating sites and force local consumers to use super-expensive Muskrat falls power all thanks to decisions dating from the fall of 200 and endorsed by every administration since.
So the next time Kathy Dunderdale talks about independent reviews or asking the PUB to do anything, just remember: legally, the regulatory deck is stacked against consumers. The whole thing is a giant set-up to favour Nalcor and its corporate partner Emera. Beaton Tulk may have started it, but Kathy Dunderdale and the current cabinet have made it their own.
Just in case you think Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t like Hydro-Quebec, just remember that she and her predecessor spent five years trying to get HQ to take an ownership stake in the Lower Churchill.
And she never said boo to anyone until long after her secret efforts failed.
- srbp -