09 January 2014

Dunderstan #nlpoli

In January 2012, Ed Martin and his nasally drone ridiculed the idea of shifting demand for electricity from one part of the day to another so that his company wouldn’t have a problem meeting spikes in demand during the winter.

He dismissed the idea as “theoretical” even though it’s widely used across Canada in places where the electricity system is well managed.

Two years later, almost to the day, energy conservation and demand management are Martin’s best friend to help people get through what his Conservative friends are willing to concede was the current “inconvenience.” 

For those who may have missed it, “inconvenience” is the slimy word you hear from Conservative hacks to describe the public emergency – the polite word for crisis – brought on by problems at Nalcor.  Only a truly desperate political hack would think of such a term, let alone use it, to describe the series of rolling blackouts and power failures that have afflicted residents of Newfoundland for almost a week.

A couple of years ago, Martin and the provincial government were pushing the idea that we needed to build the very expensive hydroelectric plant as Muskrat Falls in order to meet growing demand. Memorial University economist James Feehan looked at the issue and concluded that – among other things – the electricity pricing system encouraged wasteful use of electricity.  Raising the price across the board or moving to time-of-day pricing could change demand by as much as five percent, according to Feehan. 

Time-of-day pricing charges consumers less for electricity in off-peak times of the day.  Ironically, consumers changed demand by more than five percent in order to cope with the January 2014 crisis.  They reduced consumption and, as it appears, shifted demand from the peak times of early morning and the supper hours.

As it turned out, there’s some pretty savage irony in the way Ed Martin ridiculed demand management by talking in 2012 about old people freezing in the dark.  He must be feeling pretty crappy these past few days having just come through a few days of doing just that. At least the whole sorry episode is now drawing to a close as Nalcor gets its thermal generators back up to something like full capacity.  Martin and Premier Kathy Dunderdale can only hope things will get back to normal.

What may not go away is the feeling some people may have that they are not living in the great province they’d imagined was their home.  On Wednesday,  CBC’s Ted Blades read a few lines to his On the Go audience sent in by some listeners.  They’d checked out the Wikipedia entry on rolling blackouts only to find they happen in developing countries “where infrastructure is poorly managed.”  In developed countries, rolling blackouts are considered to be “an unacceptable failure” of electricity network management. 

Some of the political talking points during the crisis reinforced that idea.  Kathy Dunderdale, for example, reminded people of the prediction that there would be rolling blackouts without Muskrat Falls.  The current situation – that she adamantly insisted was never close to crisis – was proof the prediction was right.  There’d be more of them too until her $8.0 billion solution showed up four or five years from now.

Four or five years from now. 

And in the meantime, the people who thought they lived in the Have Province of Newfoundland and Labrador have to put up with living in Dunderstan.   That’s the place where the political leaders often seem like they dunderstan what is going on or what they are doing or what the people who live in the place are going through without heat and light in the middle of a freezing cold winter.