15 February 2012

In the democratic have-not province… #nlpoli #cdnpoli

For all those who have really been paying attention, here’s a simple question:

How many independent reviews of the project people call Muskrat Falls  will there have been have there been by April 1, 2012?

While you are pondering that one take a gander at what is happening in Nova Scotia.  On the second day that the gang from Nalcor was facing the public utilities board hearing, the front page of the Chronicle Herald carried a story in which the Nova Scotia Tories challenged that province’s ruling New Democrats to study the costs of Muskrat Falls.

Pursuing the megaproject to ship hydroelectric power to Nova Scotia from Labrador by subsea cable from Newfoundland would mean more money for the power company but might not be in the best interests of taxpayers, [PC leader Jamie] Baillie said. He said Nova Scotia Power has incentive "to build the biggest, most expensive project around" because its profit is based on a fixed percentage of its assets. If its asset base goes up, its profit rate also goes up.

"They're guaranteed a rate of return of 9.2 per cent on equity," Baillie said. "So they want to build as big a balance sheet as possible because they get 9.2 per cent of a bigger number.

"But that's their interest.

Premier Darrell Dexter blew that idea off by saying that Nova Scotia’s utilities regulator would be doing that job. The utility and review Board would have to approve the project according to Dexter.

An Emera spokesperson rattled off all the benefits of the deal.  Of course, there is no deal yet.  Emera and Nalcor are still talking.

Still pondering the poser from the beginning?

Let’s give you some more time and look at two more things going on in Nova Scotia.

The bluenoser provincial government issued two more news release on Valentine’s Day. One praised five new small electricity generation projects:

One of the applications in Cape Breton is a 5.4 megawatt large-wind project, jointly owned by Cape Breton University and Cape Breton Explorations Ltd. near Sydney.

"Wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of electricity in Canada," says John Harker, president, Cape Breton University. "This project is a testament to CBU's commitment to foster innovation and offer unparalleled research opportunities and hands-on training for students interested in renewable energy technology."

The other proposals are:

-- a 3.5-kilowatt wind project owned by the Lemoine Development Association, the Harbour Authority of Grand Etang and SuGen Research Inc. in Grand Etang, Inverness Co.

-- a 50-kilowatt small-wind project on Brown's Mountain in Barney's River, Pictou Co., owned by Northumberland Wind Field

--a 4.6-megawatt large-wind project owned by Watts Wind Energy and the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative (Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn) in Ketch Harbour, in conjunction with Brookfield Asset Management and Katalyst Wind

--a 500-kilowatt tidal project in Petit Passage,

Wind and tidal energy.  Innovative stuff. And all pretty affordable.

The other release was about a new tidal energy project getting underway in the Bay of Fundy.

And now to go back to our question.  Some of you may have already guessed that the answer is none and if Jerome and Kathy get their way, the Muskrat falls project will never be subjected to a thorough, critical, independent review.

The joint federal-provincial panel studied two dams – Gull Island and Muskrat Falls – tied back to Churchill Falls.  They didn’t look at the line to the island and they never got a look at the Nova Scotia feed.

The public utilities board is only looking at the plan to build a dam and a line to the island, with some discussion of later thermal energy.  The provincial government was very careful to set up the PUB reference in such a way that the PUB couldn’t do a thorough, independent review. 

What’s more, the provincial government structured the reference in such a way that the outcome is rigged.  The PUB has no choice but to say what the provincial government and Nalcor wanted them to say. 

You can tell the whole thing is rigged by looking at the number of questions submitted to Nalcor that the provincial energy company refused to answer.  Anything related to the Nova Scotia deal, the line, and the presence of Emera in the provincial market, all of which bear on the project and what it means to consumers gets the Nalcor stock answer:

Q. Consumer Question: Will Emera fully own transmission  lines located on the Island of  Newfoundland? If so, will they be subject to the regulatory authority of the PUB?

A. The information requested does not assist consideration of the Reference Question, as the neither the Terms of Reference nor Reference Question addresses matters related to Emera.

The PUB hearing is exactly what the provincial government wanted it to be:  a gigantic political fraud.  If Newfoundlanders and Labradorians want to find out what is going on in their own province, they’ll have to depend on the Nova Scotia utilities regulator. 

In this province, first one administration – Beaton Tulk’s – and then the two Tory ones wiped out any independent oversight of anything they do with public money.

- srbp -