12 January 2012

Muskrat Falls: from worse to worser for Dunderdale and Company #nlpoli

Add Ron Penney to the list of former senior provincial public servants questioning Muskrat Falls and/or the way the provincial government is handling the project.

In a letter to the Telegram, the former Peckford-era [deputy] justice minister joins with David Vardy to call for a full, independent review of the MF proposal through the public utilities board.  Vardy, a former Clerk of the Executive Council, and Penney, one of the team that negotiated the 1985 Atlantic Accord, say that they have followed the discussion and that given the serious of the issue “fully expected” that the public utilities board would get the time needed to complete its review properly.
We were therefore not surprised by the recent request by the board to have the deadline extended for the completion of the reference until June 30 and fully expected Minister Jerome Kennedy to provide the extension. 
We were shocked by the immediate decision of the minister to deny the request. The stated reason is to allow a debate in the House of Assembly in March but there is no reason why the House cannot debate this in July, following the completion of the reference.
Penney and Vardy call Muskrat Falls the largest public works project ever undertaken in the province and “the most important public policy issue ever to have faced Newfoundland and Labrador”.
It requires careful and comprehensive independent analysis and a public debate, informed by that analysis. That is the purpose of the reference to the board and to restrict that review does a disservice to the people of the province.
They say that the project may “expose us [i.e. the people of the province] to significant risk”.  They are absolutely right and most of that risk, don’t forget is undisclosed.

Vardy and Penney draw attention to points that will be very familiar to SRBP readers:
Major infrastructure projects like this inevitably cost considerably more than originally estimated so we might well double the debt of the province at a time when it is likely that offshore revenues are in decline and our expenditures are increasing to meet the challenges posed by our changing demographics.
The solution, they argue, is to let the PUB assess all potential options.
The board should be allowed to consider the other issues that have been raised publicly over the past year such as the use of natural gas as feedstock for the Holyrood thermal plant, incentives to reduce demand during the winter peak, conservation measures, and estimates of future population and electrical load growth, among others. Furthermore, we maintain that these issues are legitimate questions within the review of the isolated island alternative to Muskrat Falls, even though we believe that the board should be unfettered in its mandate.
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