19 February 2016

Muskrat Falls electricity prices... again #nlpoli

The infamous JM is at it again.

"Top 10 Muskrat Myths" (via Uncle Gnarley) rebuts 10 of the arguments in favour of Muskrat Falls. All of this has been argued before in several places, but this is a one-stop summary of the key points.

One to notice is the idea that Muskrat will make money from export:
“It will generate Export Revenue”:  Initial export sales of 2,000 GWhr (40% of MF output) will generate about $80 million annual revenue, based upon current market pricing.  To put that figure into perspective, interest on the ~$8 billion (the final figure may be much higher) which will have to be borrowed for this project will cost about $320 million a year.  Muskrat Falls will not be a significant revenue generator for the province until it is paid off in 2067.
In the second part of his myth-busting extravaganza, JM tackles the claim that Muskrat Falls will stabilise electricity rates.  This is a long, dense post with lots of charts.  it will turn most people off.

The big take-away is that, as SRBP and others have told you,  Muskrat Falls is going to double electricity rates, guaranteed.  Double the rates, at least.

But the bigger point is that doubling rates will push electricity consumption down, despite the fact that Nalcor sold Muskrat Falls on the assumption that consumption would only go up.

The problem is that we pay for Muskrat Falls whether the energy is needed or not.  "The impact on ratepayers will be profound," JM notes.  If we have to distribute the cost over fewer kilowatt hours, you can expect the price for each kilowatt hour will go up. That will induce even more conservation with a similar pressure on prices.

JM notes that Nalcor hasn't produced a simple set of rate projections.  The reasons is likely that Nalcor doesn't know how it will translate the final cost of Nalcor to rate payers.  For example,  a future government may find itself under pressure to keep electricity prices down.  One way to do that would be to limit how much of the total cost of Muskrat Falls is recovered through rates.

Here's how that might look. If MF costs $10 billion all-up,  half of that is covered by the federal loan guarantee while the other half is provided by the government through additional borrowing. The provincial government might decide to only recover the half of the cost covered by the federal loan guarantee.  The government itself would pay back the other half through other taxes.

Since taxpayers and ratepayers are the same people,  the final cost will be the same.  The difference is that government can hide half the cost of Muskrat Falls with a bit of creative accounting.  There are reasons why the House of Assembly destroyed the province's transparent electricity rate system in 2012 and replaced with one ultimately dictated by cabinet.  Hiding the real cost of Muskrat Falls from consumers is one of them.