Monday, 10 March 2014

THE PUB: ANTIDOTE TO A GONG SHOW?

Nalcor’s warning to the public last week: ‘conserve power or suffer more rolling black-outs’  lends credence to suggestions that the Agency is a ‘Gong Show’. 


A winter weary citizenry co-operated but not without expressing bewilderment of the people in charge of the Island’s electrical system. 

No leadership is expected from either Premier Marshall or Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley. 

In the real world, Nalcor CEO Ed Martin would have been sent packing early in January.  But, the Government is weak and cannot distinguish those matters which are truly in the public interest. 

The one source of light in this whole sordid business is an Order from the Public Utilities Board, specifically No. P.U. 3 (2014).  The Order followed the lodging of a formal Complaint by the Official Opposition and by a five person Citizen’s Group.
The accompanying Media Advisory to P.U. 3 (2014) had this to say: “the Board has determined that certain issues should be addressed on a priority basis to allow for timely implementation of any necessary changes before next winter. These issues include a review of the system events, evaluation of possible changes to the Island Interconnected system to enhance preparedness for the upcoming winter seasons, and an examination of each utility’s response to the power outages.”

The PUB has targeted mid-May as a delivery date for the interim Report. 

The Agency rightly placed specific issues relating to Hoyrood at the top of its agenda.  But, it must be noted the PUB did not listen to Nalcor who wanted any broadening of the investigation scotched.  The preamble to the PUB’s stated in part:

“WHEREAS Hydro (that’s Nalcor) submits that the key period for the investigation and hearing should be the upcoming winter periods until the Muskrat Falls generating facility is commissioned and that it would be beyond the appropriate scope of this matter to address reliability after the
commissioning of the Muskrat Falls generating facility and the Labrador Island Link;

Then the PUB adds:

WHEREAS Newfoundland Power, the Consumer Advocate, Danny Dumaresque, Des Sullivan, Cabot Martin, Dave Vardy and Ron Penney submit that the Board should examine how reliability on the Island Interconnected system will be assured after the commissioning of the Muskrat Falls generating facility; and….” (emphasis added)

To put it succinctly, the PUB will examine, against the wishes of Nalcor, the capability of Muskrat Falls post-2017. 


It is too early to judge whether the PUB’s assessment of relevant issues will be adequate.  The Agency has not yet said if the Water Management Agreement, the Labrador Island Link, the Energy Access Agreement with Emera and the multiplicity of sub-issues will be placed under the microscope.


Likely, we won’t know until after the Interim report is released. 


But we do know that while the Provincial Government and Nalcor continue to keep us in the dark the PUB has the capacity to shed light on several substantive issues.  It certainly seems willing to perform its legislated role. 


In the good faith belief that the PUB’s investigation will be thorough, that Agency’s decision ought to serve as a reminder to the public of the importance of such institutions. 


A society that contains a strong institutional structure has an in-built capacity to protect the public interest even when elected governments fail.    


This is a lesson to all of us to pay more attention the Office of the Auditor General, to the Public Accounts Committee, to the development of additional oversight structures.   In particular, consideration must be given to how unwise governments can be prevented from easily undermining these bulwarks against poor democratic practice.

The PUB has an opportunity to put on display, not just for Newfoundland and Labrador, but for all open democracies its independence and its obligation to serve the public rather than succumb to the Government that appointed it. 


It is an opportunity that transcends considerations of incompetence by senior public servants or even the need of modern society to be assured basic heat and light.  


It is difficult to conceive that a Government Agency, the very one at risk of being exposed, is the only one opposed to public examination.  

But, secrecy is what Nalcor has relied upon and demanded throughout the entire Muskrat saga, too.  

In time, it will have to be stripped down, exposed, cleaned out.  It is a Gong Show with many bad Acts.  It needs to be gonged.

The PUB may well deliver the first one.

1 comment:

  1. Lets embrace the upcoming cross examination of the inconsistent truth coming from Nalcor.

    ReplyDelete