Monday, 23 June 2014

MUSKRAT FALLS NEEDS TO BE EXPOSED TO THE LIGHT

One of the unfortunate consequences of the Tory Leadership troubles and the Humber Valley Paving affair is that the Muskrat Falls Project has slid off the public radar. 

The Government has given Nalcor sanction to spend billions of dollars in the absence of structured and resourced ‘oversight’.  The Agency essentially has carte blanche access to the public purse. 

Nalcor continues to post job figures and expenditures without offering proof of progress on the Muskrat Falls site.  

We are not in possession of the latest project cost estimates or a revised construction schedule; the latter a major concern of the Independent Engineer (IE).

Readers are reminded it is not the IE’s job to sound alarm; its chief role is simply to make sure the $5 billion Bond funding, on which the Feds have a guarantee, is not spent on overruns.

In short, the public is in the dark on the Muskrat Falls project. Take a look at a prime example, the $1 billion Astaldi contract. 

Nalcor has stated the Astaldi bid “…ultimately provides the best overall value for the Muskrat Falls Project….”  (emphasis added) The phraseology of its Press Release is as striking as it is incomplete.  Nowhere does it say the Company is the 'lowest bidder'! That is a serious omission for an Agency ostensibly preoccupied with "cost pressures". We need to know if Nalcor intended more precision; if those words were inadvertent or deliberate.    

Astaldi’s work includes the “powerhouse, spillway, intake and transition dams”.  Nalcor talks about “best overall value”.   

Is it possible the Astaldi work is NOT a ‘fixed-price contract’? What risk does Astaldi assume, if any, having been selected over rivals, like Aecon?  Is all the risk Nalcor’s? What other secrets have been held back?

It is not as if we can ask Nalcor and get a straight answer; one that gives no quarter to claims of 'commercial sensitivity'.   It is not as if we have access to a real 'Oversight' Team. 
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                                    WHY THE MUSKRAT OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE IS A FARCE
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When Nalcor plays with words, as if everyone is too dumb to notice, don't you think the strongest possible Oversight is overdue?  Shouldn't replacing Ed Martin be a priority, too?   

Martin advised that he will provide a project update at the end of June.  He has never been known to release information that lets the public assess his, the Project Team’s performance, or that of the Project.  No Reports ever get published as blunt as that provided by the PUB into the causes of DarkNL.

That said, the Province has not had a functioning Premier in a long time.  Tom Marshall may suggest it is the P.C. Party that is in disarray and not the Government, but he is wrong. It is both!  A Government focussed on the public interest would never permit an Agency, like Nalcor, to do anything except provide the greatest possible disclosure and have its expensive tastes monitored.

The Premier told the House of Assembly in March, 2014 that he had established a four person Committee of Deputy Ministers headed by the Clerk of the Executive Council to provide Muskrat Oversight.  He said he wanted to:      
                           
“…strengthen and formalize the existing oversight for the construction phase of the Muskrat Falls Project (through the establishment of) a departmental committee of Finance, Natural Resources, and Justice, chaired by the Clerk of the Executive Council…(which would) provide quarterly updates to the public starting in July….”

The first Report of the Committee is due within days.

This scribe has always regarded this Departmental Oversight Committee an act of deception on the part of the Premier.    

Muskrat oversight is a matter of such complexity that it needs a full team of specialists in the engineering, planning, logistics, construction management and financial fields to assess it properly.  Four career public servants are not up to that task alone.  That is not to lend them disrespect; it is simply to suggest that they take notice and inform the public of the reality of their position. 

Public interest may have come ahead of their jobs.  But even in a blinkered society, such as ours, courage still earns an enduring respect.   

Workers returning from the Muskrat Falls Site suggest first power, in 2017, is a pipe dream; even 2018 is a distant prospect. We know that costs have spiralled; we just don’t know how high.  None of the news is good.  

Emera CEO Chris Huskilson told the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, as recently as May 26th, that Muskrat is on schedule; no one at Nalcor thought to correct him.  

Ed Martin and Danny Williams use every opportunity to talk up our 'energy warehouse', as if it is perfectly excusable to waste offshore oil revenues to cover up mismanagement of Nalcor’s hydro project.  If only the public could be satisfied with the phrases of the PR Department!

If the Government’s Oversight Committee had been properly resourced and given unfettered authority to report, we might still be concerned about overruns; but, at least, we would have the truth.  The status of the Astaldi and other major Contracts might be available.  

If Muskrat Falls is ever to produce electricity a good way to get there might be to first expose the project to the light.

5 comments:

  1. I find astounding the absolute and abysmal ignorance of our political leaders….and their glossing over of the mess that Muskrat Falls will generate in terms of the fiscal capacity of the province. In fact, it will generate a much larger fiscal burden than it will ever generate in terms of revenue for the province.

    As of this writing, the province's affairs are adrift..due to the calamity that is the PC Party and government….but it is all part of the hope they have that the project cannot be stopped. They are determined to see it through….for reasons not evident….as their rationale for developing MF changes by the hour. The realities of cost overruns, other options, poor maintenance…all of these are glibly ignored by a corrupt, inept dictatorship…whose political appointees(like Mr. Martin)…continue to wield disproportionate power and influence. Their leadership of NALCOR has been nothing, if not disastrous, and firing them should have happened years ago.

    As I listen to Danny Dumaresque on Backtalk, criticizing Ed Martin and the ability of NL Hydro to complete maintenance that was neglected for years, I shudder to think how much more damage this monstrous entity called NALCOR may yet inflict on the people and the economy of the province.

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  2. Was dozing off the other night watching the Simpson’s re-run where Lyle Lanley is trying to sell the town a Mono-rail project & I could almost swear I saw Ed Martin in straw-hat & seersucker suit dancing across the screen singing…

    “Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
    Like a genuine, bona fide
    Electrified, Giga-Budget Mega-Project
    What'd I say?
    Muskrat False
    What's it called?
    Muskrat False
    That's right! Muskrat False!
    Muskrat False!
    Muskrat False!

    What about us brain-dead slobs?
    You'll all be given digging jobs
    Were you sent here by Emera ?
    Don’t you worry sonny, we’ll take good care-ya

    Is it true you gave Nova Scotia a sweetheart deal?
    Don’t second guess us, who’s to say what’s real!
    I swear it's the Province’s only choice
    Throw up your hands and raise your voice…?
    Muskrat False
    Muskrat False

    I hear the project’s gone off the rails
    Nah, take my word, nuttin’ this BIG ever fails
    But NALCO with the over-runs, how much my kids will have to pay?
    That’s far above your head, & Bill 29, just makes my day!

    The legal guys say HydroQuebec will disallow
    Who cares ‘bout that, it’s too late to stop it now.
    But all the news we hear gets worse & worse
    Ah, what’s a few more billion from the public purse?

    Muskrat False
    What's it called?
    Muskrat False
    Once again
    Muskrat False
    But our High ways, Education, & Health Care, all cracked & broken
    Sorry, Noofs, the back-room boys have spoken!
    Muskrat False
    Muskrat False
    Muskrat False”

    The more information we get about the competence of the management planners, the future money it would earn, the legal fiascos with Hydro-Quebec, the potential power to be generated, the constant cost over-runs, it all seems to be well… either somewhat lacking or just plain false .
    RAP

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  3. It was just the other day that I read an article that outlined the enormous wealth that Norway, a country with five million people, has set aside from oil revenues, to ensure the people of that country enjoy the benefits of the oil revenues for generations to come. I then think about the billions of dollars in oil revenues a province of approximately half a million people has received, yet we have little or nothing to show for it. I then ask myself why is this, and is there anything that should change to correct this. After careful consideration, I realized one common denominator and that being King Danny.

    The king has and continues to have too much influence over the affairs of our province. Through his efforts, the PC party is in shambles, the province's debt load is staggering and last but not least, we will be left with Muskrat Falls that will further burden the provincial defecate and have the people of the province pay some of the highest utility rates in the country. You then have to consider the relatively small population of this province, the vast amount of natural resources we enjoy and once again what do we have to show for it. As for those who come to his defence, I suggest you think hard on what has transpired these few years and how long will it take for there to be any relief. I for one am too long in the tooth to ever see any positive difference in our future and sadly I think my children will likely bare witness to the same. What a legacy to leave behind.

    As for where we go from here and how we might possible see a positive change at some point in our future, one thing I am convinced of, the king must be told to stay away and take an extended fishing trip to use his words. And if a new leader with some genuine grit is to take over the PC leadership, don't be afraid to tell the people of this province the truth even if it hurts. And don't be afraid to make some tuff decisions, even if we have to swallow a loss on the cancellation of Muskrat Falls. Dwight Ball should also take note on this point.

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  4. The Premier has scheduled a news conference for this afternoon after we get the update from Mr.Martin. Let's hope he is announcing the cancellation of this disaster.

    John D Pippy

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  5. Oh well, so much for that great hope. I guess I am left with waiting for the Liberals to cancel the project when they get in power. Somehow I doubt that plan has any better chance than the current government cancelling it.

    John d pippy

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