08 January 2014

Crises within crises #nlpoli

The action of the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill once said, “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Some people in Newfoundland and Labrador likely felt that way after Day Three of Kathy Dunderdale’s one woman crusade to deny that the province is experiencing a crisis.

Most people just cock their heads to one side and mouth the three letters W, T, and F.

Don’t worry.  Be happy.

Dunderdale met with reporters on Tuesday afternoon to describe the provincial government’s ongoing efforts to respond to this thing that cannot be named.

When asked - yet again – about her whole “this is not a crisis” claim, Dunderdale explained that when she denies the place is in a crisis she has to speak on behalf of the whole province to the entire world.  If she were speaking just to one or two of us, then maybe it might be a crisis. 

But to the world, it cannot be a crisis, even though the province’s monopoly electrical generating company cannot guarantee a stable supply of electricity and the government has to keep schools shut and beg people to cut back their power consumption in order to help keep the lights on. Government-run liquor stores are open, as Dunderdale proudly noted in her example of how life goes on and things are normal.  The bond stores are open but the schools are shut.

Folks in Djibouti can figure out the people in Newfoundland have got it rough. Iraqi, Sri Lankan,  and Columbian heads would bob in agreement.  Even mainlanders like the ones in Quebec or Ontario would figure out this is a public crisis because – as it turns out – they are having similar problems, even if the cause is different.

kentEven Steve Kent, the minister responsible for emergency response, knows that there is a public emergency on the go.

On Tuesday, he was both curiously absent from the newser the Premier held on emergency response and not surprisingly active on his favourite medium showing off his hard work on the emergency response.

Kent announced he’d be having a meeting at the emergency operations centre.  Then the crowd at fire and emergency service sent around a picture of Kent meeting in St. John’s with “EM partners.”  EM.  Emergency management.  Emergency being another word for…wait for it…crisis. 

Only North Koreans would agree with Kathy Dunderdale, but that is likely because they are used to nodding enthusiastically at anything Glorious Leader says lest Glorious Leader invite them out back of the shed to meet the dogs.

The Puzzle Palace

Meanwhile, Nalcor boss Ed Martin is trapped in a bunch of crises all of his own making.  There is the generation one.  Then there is the credibility one.  Martin has now decided to make that one even worse.  Standing next to Kathy Dunderdale at the  media availability, Martin told reporters that he regrets the hardship people have been experiencing.  He was not clear on why they were experiencing hardships but he felt bad about it, anyway.

This is an interesting change of direction for Nalcor.  Their first media line on the crisis was that people had caused it by their incredible use of electricity.  Way more than normal.  35% above the average load for the past five years.

Except that it isn’t.

Comparing the peak to an average of the whole year is misleading.  Peak is the key thing.  The communications people at Nalcor know know peak is the key because they keep pointing to peak demand.  Well, kept pointing until now.

The peak on the island always comes in the winter.  Last week, the peak was apparently 1550 MWNalcor’s evidence at the public utilities board hearing into the Muskrat Falls project showed that the 2014 peak was almost 50 MW lower than peaks in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2009. 

Using the same information, you can see that Nalcor produces forecasts for peak demand every year into the future.  If you take every set of forecasts made between 2001 to 2010 and average the forecast specifically for 2014,  you get 1727 megawatts.  The 2014 actual peak to date was 10% lower than that.

So much for the idea, pushed by Dunderdale, that the rolling blackouts were a fulfilment of the prophecy contained in the sacred Twitter gospel of St. Jerome! and the disciples of Muskrat.

The crowd at Nalcor have shifted around their arguments so often, they seem to have trouble keeping the whole thing straight.  Martin himself has blamed the current crisis on aging equipment.  Some reporters have asked him the next logical question, namely how people can have confidence the system won’t fall apart again, as it did, given that all this aging stuff won’t get replaced until 2017 or so.  No problem, says Martin without skipping a beat.  Everything is working fine.

Don’t lose confidence in we poor folks at Nalcor, Ed Martin implored people the other day.  He will learn that public confidence cannot be built on a foundation of half-truths.