02 February 2012

So haunted by ghosts #nlpoli #cdnpoli

Hear what comfortable words our Premier sayeth:
For generations gone by, the undeveloped hydro-power resources of the Lower Churchill were, for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, like a treasure just out of reach, tantalizingly close but never close enough to enjoy. The gatekeepers of the natural transmission route through Quebec were denying us fair opportunity to get the power to market, and having been burnt once on the Upper Churchill, we were determined not to let that happen again.

Churchill Falls remains as powerful a totem for some politicians in this province as it ever was.  The crowd currently running this place use it more frequently as their beloved Muskrat Falls project encounters more and more problems.

Their only problem is that they know only the illusion of the thing, not the reality.

Take that bit from Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s marathon oration a couple of days ago as a case in point.

At the time of the 1969 contract to sell power from Churchill Falls to Hydro-Quebec, the Lower Churchill was supposed to be a source of energy for the province itself. You can find the very idea in a piece from the People’s Paper from back in the day, as the hideous saying goes.  Only later on did politicians think about trying to sell the bulk of the power outside and use any  money from those sales to pay for a line to bring electricity onto the island, if need be.

The idea of Quebec as an obstacle is an old one, as well.  The truth is that since the early 1990s they haven’t been a problem.  No one developed the Lower Churchill because they could never make the economics of it work out.  The fools never thought of making the people of the province foot the bill for the whole thing  so they could ship the discount juice outside.

In any event, Kathy Dunderdale herself should know that Quebec isn’t an obstacle any more. In April 2009, her predecessor announced a deal to sell electricity from Churchill Falls to the United States through Quebec.  Surely the Premier remembers these words attributed to her in the official news release three years ago:

“This is a significant development for us to share our excess green renewable energy with the rest of North America through our transmission access through Quebec and our subsequent arrangement directly with Emera Energy,” said the Honourable Kathy Dunderdale, Minister of Natural Resources. “These markets are seeking clean, reliable energy, which we have in abundance. The recall block availability and this arrangement allows us to build our reputation and experience as a reliable supplier of clean energy now and into the future.”

There it is in black and white:  “through our transmission access through Quebec”.

Not around Quebec.

Not under Quebec.

Not over Quebec.

Through Quebec.

Through the "natural transmission route", in the words of the craftsman who put them in Kathy’s mouth.

Nalcor has been losing money on the deal, though.  Electricity prices have dropped through a combination of lower demand in the United States and abundant cheap energy from natural gas.  The reason Nalcor isn’t developing the Lower Churchill for export is that no one wants the power at the prices Nalcor would have to charge for it.  As it is, Nalcor had to promise Nova Scotia a block of power for 35 years for free to get them on board the Muskrat Falls Express.

But through it all, dear friends, based on all that stuff which turns out wasn’t exactly fully, totally and completely in correlation with what we colloquially know as true, “we were determined not to let that happen again.”

And so determined was Kathy Dunderdale “not to let that happen again” that she and her boss tried for five years to lure Hydro-Quebec into taking an equity position – an ownership stake, if you will – on the prized Lower Churchill with the electricity going into Quebec and through Quebec.

We know this because Kathy herself told us all, even if no news media in the province have ever reported it lo these two and a half years later.

Hear what comfortable words Kathy sayeth back then:

Y’know, the Premier has gone to Quebec, and gone to Premier Charest, and, y’know, we’ve had NALCO(R) visit y’know Hydro-Quebec, I’ve been meeting with Ministers and so on. And we say to them, okay, y’know, we’ll set the Upper Churchill to one side, but, y’know, let’s sit down and have a talk about this Lower Churchill piece. Y’know, we know that we have to have a win-win situation here. Because we, as I’ve said earlier this week, we know that if you don’t have win-win you have win and poison pill. Because that’s what we’ve got with the Upper Churchill. So we can have a win-win situation. We know that if you come in here as an equity player that you have to have a good return on your investment. And we want you to have a good return on your investment. But it also has to be a good deal for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Now we have been with that message back and forth [i.e. to Hydro-Quebec] for five years. No, sir. No, sir. There is no takeup on that proposal.
In fact, so determined was Kathy that she not let that 1969 contract happen again, so firm was she in her resolve on the matter that she and Danny Williams told the folks at Hydro-Quebec to forget all about it:
we’ll set the Upper Churchill to one side, but, y’know, let’s sit down and have a talk about this Lower Churchill piece

For good measure, Kathy wanted to make sure that Hydro-Quebec actually got a “good return” on their investment in the Lower Churchill.  How good?  Maybe as good as Nova Scotia will get – free power – but alas we will never know. 

Hydro-Quebec, as it turned out, just wasn’t interested.

There are some people, as it seems, who are haunted by the infamous Upper Churchill contract.  They see its ghost at every turn, beckoning them onward. 

And so they follow, mesmerised by the rushing of water and the humming of generators,  deeper and ever deeper into its lair until they can no longer tell what is real and what is illusion.  They talk as though one was the other and that both were the same.

It is then  - and only then – that you know the Ghost in the Turbines has claimed another victim.

- srbp -