14 January 2012

Muskrat Falls, the kamikaze venture #nlpoli

Not surprisingly Nalcor’s Ed Martin latched onto a pretty  superficial argument to dismiss economist Jim Feehan’s critique of Muskrat Falls.

"I go over to see my Dad, an 80-year-old gentleman living on his own, and I say to Dad, 'I have a solution for you — why don't we raise your electricity rates so high that you won't use electricity?' ... He's going to say to me, 'I think you're going to have to find another solution here.' "

Premier Kathy Dunderdale wasn’t far behind.  As VOCM put it:

Dunderdale says Feehan's argument that electricity rates are artificially low and that people will use less electricity if the prices were increased, is something government simply does not agree with. She says their primary focus is to keep electricity rates low. 

Dunderdale never explained why she thought prices weren’t artificially low.  Odds are she doesn’t know whether they are or they aren’t low or what impact changing the way energy is priced might have.

Like most politicians, she is probably contented with the rather simplistic view that created the current system.  Low prices are politically good.  “[T]ry selling that,” writes the Telegram editorialist on Friday, “to a pensioner on a fixed income.”

Such a discussion on the doorstep is a scary prospect, to be sure, even if you understand all the nuances of the issue.  In Dunderdale’s case, though, it isn’t a question of understanding anything except that this deal is done.


When Danny announced it, nothing could stop it.

There are no more decision gates.

There are no off-ramps and no climb down spots.

Once Danny announced this project and cabinet backed it in November 2010, they put us all on a non-stop march to debt.

The Tories are impervious to logic.

None can penetrate.

They cannot be dissuaded.

CBC cornered Danny Williams somewhere on Friday and asked him about the critics.  Williams said that when he put this deal together, Williams got the top minds to work it out.  This deal must be perfect one can take from that.  And since Williams had only the best, all others must be inferior creatures.  The decision is already perfect.

Such is the delusional world, the blind world, the supremely arrogant world in which he and his heirs live.

So far removed are Williams, Dunderdale, Jerome Kennedy, Shawn Skinner and the rest of the Muskrat mafia from reality that they cannot see the pure insanity of the claim that their primary focus, as Dunderdale put it, is keeping energy prices low.

Feehan’s paper, as the Telegram editorial quoted, uses figures that translate out to an increase in electricity prices from 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 13.5 cents per kwh, all without Muskrat. he was talking about the price consumers pay.

Even if we accept the wildly unrealistic assumptions Dunderdale and company are using for Muskrat Falls, their own numbers show that the cost of making electricity at Muskrat Falls will be at least 14.3 cents per kwh and as much as 16.5 cents. 

That isn’t the price consumers will pay.  They will have to pay for Muskrat Falls, plus all of Nalcor’s other operations, plus newfoundland Power’s costs of distribution and a healthy profit to both.

If those Nalcor assumptions about project costs – a mere 15% over-run, for example – turn out to be as ludicrous as experience suggests they are, then you can be damn certain that consumers will be paying way more than 16.5 cents per kwh just for Muskrat Falls.

If Ed Martin explained his Muskrat Falls plan to his father and then laid Jim Feehan’s idea in front of him, you can bet which one Martin Senior would jump at. 

The logic isn’t hard to follow. 

The math is actually pretty easy.

If Ed were to add that the Williams/Dunderdale/Martin idea was to trade away possible high electricity prices for guaranteed high ones, then Ed’s Dad would probably keel over.

Williams, Dunderdale and Company want to make sure that domestic electricity prices in Newfoundland and Labrador are the highest, not the lowest. That’s what their own information says.

It’s like Tom Marshall’s claim that he wants to fight the public debt. And his way of doing that is  - in effect – to double the debt by building Muskrat Falls.  That’s the only conclusion you can reach from their own information.

Its proponents would have you believe that Muskrat Falls is the divine wind that will save us all.  The reality is that the project looks like a kamikaze of a different sort altogether.

- srbp -


Hold off on the Lower Churchill, James Feehan, National Post, (January 2012):

“Apparently, the province is unconcerned that pushing ahead, as opposed to waiting for a more comprehensive report, might hurt the credibility of the PUB assessment itself. Now, doubts about the project have company: doubts about the process.

The way forward is clear: At the very least, Newfoundland and Labrador should hold off on the Lower Churchill until a better set of facts is in front of the public, and the legislature. And the province would do well to take the time to ponder a broader set of options, including setting better energy policy. Muskrat Falls will wait, and a wider set of long-run options, including a transmission corridor that better serves provincial and pan-Canadian needs, will present themselves in due course.”

Williams announces political exit plan  (October 2010):

“It gets better. Weak electricity prices coupled with the front-end loading of capital on Muskrat Falls would likely mean power sent to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the United States could only sell at heavily discounted prices. Even Muskrat Falls power at a break even price would likely be too expensive for the markets to bear.   That’s an old and fundamental problem with trying to sell Labrador power so far away from Labrador.

No problem for NALCOR, these days. Thanks to changes made to the Electrical Power Control Act in 2006, the Hydro Corporation Act, the Public Utilities Act,  and government policy, NALCOR wouldn’t suffer any losses. The company can export all the discounted power it wants  knowing that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will wind up paying for it.”

Debt, electricity rates and Muskrat Falls  (August 2011)

Muskrat falls deal will succeed:  Nalcor boss (December 2011)