Saturday, 22 October 2016

PREMIER SHOULD PUT MUSKRAT FALLS “ON ICE” PENDING FULL REVIEW

The current crisis over methylmercury levels threatening Lake Melville, after flooding at the Muskrat Falls reservoir, cannot be viewed in isolation from the other issues that plague the project - especially its frightening (and growing) price tag. 

This is a renewed call for Premier Ball to put the project on “ice” at least for this winter.
The interregnum will afford a full review of the methylmercury issue and give the public an opportunity (one they should demand) to examine its economic consequences for them, as ratepayers.

Additional clear cutting and soil removal in the reservoir area can only add to an already over-burdensome cost. The Government’s way of dealing with the environmental issues seems at best incremental. The public can have no confidence the Province can afford to have this project completed.


Nalcor’s handling of the methylmercury issue and other concerns are emblematic of a Corporation ill-suited to build a megaproject. Consider the issues described in a Paper entitled “The Disconnect Between EA & Implementation: A Look at the Methylmercury Issue in the Lower Churchill Project” by Meinhard Doelle, Director of the Marine & Environmental Law Institute at Dalhousie University (November 20, 2015).

The Paper constitutes solid evidence of why Nalcor and the Provincial Government have such a mess on their hands at Muskrat Falls. "EA" stands for “environmental assessment”. Doelle was one of the five EA Panel Members.

The author points out that for as long as environmental assessments have been carried out there has existed a “demand for better follow-up, monitoring, adaptive management, quality control, and better integration of EA into regulatory processes.” He refers to “academic research by Schartup et al. (2015) (which) sheds new light on the fate of methylmercury in Lake Melville” noting that the “study found that rivers are a major source of mercury to Lake Melville and make up more than 85% of total inputs.”

With regard to the EA on the Lower Churchill, Doelle states: “some of the panel’s recommendations on methylmercury were rejected, and it seems that others that were accepted have not been effectively implemented to date.”

Says Doelle: “One of the purposes of any follow-up and monitoring program is to identify whether predictions made during the EA turn out to be accurate, and to ensure an adequate response to such prediction errors. It seems clear from the 2015 Schartup Study that the predictions made by Nalcor with respect to methylmercury have now been shown to be inaccurate. What is troubling is that there does not appear to be a mechanism in place to ensure an effective adaptive management response that considers what can be done at this stage of the project to address the risk of methylmercury contamination in Lake Melville. If this impression is accurate, this is a serious flaw in the follow-up and monitoring approach that needs to be addressed….”

Nalcor assumed it could ignore the Schartup Study in 2015, ignore the recommendations of the EA Panel, and ignore scientists like Doelle. It hoped it would be able to ignore the Harvard University Study, too, which demonstrated scientific evidence that methylmercury levels would have a “sharp increase” after reservoir flooding – in Lake Melville by as much as 380% - if only partial clearing of the trees and soils occur. Back in April Nalcor V-P Gilbert Bennett touted the Company’s nationally recognized experts to refute the Harvard research.  Nalcor hoped that passivity on the Island to the project’s economic consequences would receive the same gesture of nonchalance, in Labrador, on environmental issues, too. Nalcor has run out of luck.

Whether contrived project estimates, contrived electrical demand forecasts, contrived oversight practices, the unwillingness to allow an independent panel to review the “quick clay” instability problem at the North Spur, or the assembly of a project management team that debases the term “international experts”, the inability of Nalcor to assuage the concerns of local indigenous people with good science is just one more example of a project that claims credibility only if no one objects or asks contentious questions.

While the Liberals inherited the project from the Tories, they have chosen to carry on the same practices of obfuscation, flat-footedness, and stone-walling practiced by their predecessors.

Perry Trimper, MHA Lake Melville
Environment Minister Perry Trimper, who just happens to be the MHA for Lake Melville, shares this responsibility. Trimper, a scientist having a long association with the Muskrat Falls project, understands the importance of sustained research to comply with the EA process.  Trimper knows, or ought to know, his statutory duties as Minister of Environment set him apart from other Cabinet colleagues.

But Perry Trimper has been as flat-footed as the Premier and as docile as Minister of Natural Resources. He, like his predecessor, is content that the Government, having given Nalcor a mandate to construct Muskrat Falls, should be guided by its values and its failed management style.

It seems Trimper never quite understood that he has an obligation to be guided not by Nalcor but by the principles of independence his environmental enforcement role commands.

One might reasonably expect that after a full year as Minister his Department would be able to confirm that the EA Panel’s recommendations and Nalcor’s commitments are being followed up with solid research and analysis. It was his duty to require enforcement especially where his Tory predecessor had failed.

The public is paying again for Nalcor’s insouciance, its lack of professionalism, and for Ball’s, Trimper’s, and Coady’s naivety and foolhardiness.    

Only a fool would argue a claim to “green” power includes an entitlement to pollute lakes and rivers, especially one as large as Lake Melville.

Equally, no project gets an open tab on the public purse. A $11.4 billion figure has been assigned to a project barely half finished. The cost plus contract arrangement given Astaldi, or whether its multi-million dollar claims against Nalcor have been settled are matters kept away from public view. There are no project updates – even Reports of the Independent Engineer are kept under cover, in spite of demands from David Vardy to have them released under ATIPPA. Should we not conclude more bad news awaits an uneasy electorate?

What is the price of disclosure, anyway, even for a Government that promised to open the books” on Muskrat Falls?

It is one thing for Trimper and co. to propose more wood cutting within the reservoir area but it is far from certain whether this undefined – even  opaque - proposal will have any net effect on the amount of methylmercury produced, if it will satisfy protesters demands, or how much it will add to current project costs.

The public should not permit this Government to commit to further expenditures without the certainty of an end game.

In short, it is time for a full accounting of Muskrat Falls. We need to know - before more funds are committed - if the Province can afford to complete this misguided scheme, or if it is the Government’s intention to blunder ahead until the Bond market stops lending us money.

That levels of methylmercury are far greater than Nalcor admitted to the Environmental Review Panel, and that the Corporation has failed to diligently comply with their recommendations, is now added to a multiplicity of other blunders.

Any right-minded person would demand that this project be stopped until its continued feasibility is investigated and exposed in open forum. Again, the public faces the reality its energy agency is unable to handle a single crisis involving questions of diligence and competency.

I suggest that the Government put this project “on ice” for the winter. The truth about Muskrat’s environmental and economic feasibility will have to come out sometime. This should happen before the project breaks the Treasury.

Why not right now?


20 comments:

  1. Every week I thank heavens that I am no longer paying electricity bills in Newfoundland and Labrador. Every option - more clearing, shelving the project, or proceeding with it as is results in an extreme expense which can only be borne by either the ratepayers or taxpayers of the province. It's too bad the perpetrators of this scam will never be held accountable for it.

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  2. Why after a year as minister is Perry Trimper now asking Nalcor to cut more trees. Does he have new information? I can only hope it is not because there are protest at the site as that would mean he is making decisions ( that will cost millions ) for political not environmental reasons. Please tell me there is new information.

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  3. There is something terribly amiss in this whole debacle. It`s as if the Government has taken the `"Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead" attidude knowing the public has to pay for it whether or not it is ever completed. The burden which has been inflicted on me, my children and grandchildren is mindboggling. The predicted 21cent+/kwh will have far reaching effects on the cost of living in this province.
    Why the environmental and health aspects of the predicted methylmurcury contamination and the looming North Spur time bomb was ignored begs an answer. In the name of God is there no protection for the people of Labrador at all?? That combined with the unbearable cost of electricity (which the Government has yet to explain how the public is to pay the electricity bills) which will be inflicted upon us warrants some "honest" information from those elected to govern.
    It's as if the Government knows we are heading for bankruptcy and it's spend,spend,spend until we have no more access to funds.
    We are in a Catch 22 situation and I suspect the Feds will have to step in and handle the mess.
    Why haven't we heard anything from Stan Marshall since his "boondoggle" statement? Has he been given the warning to "keep your mouth shut"?

    There has been, still is, and looks like will continue to be no accountability whatsoever for those responsible.
    Danny Williams (whose ego hatched the idea), Kathy Dunderdale, who sanctioned it and Ed Martin (whose inexperience in handling a mega project)have all walked away from it. Except for Danny Williams' feeble attempt to try and convince us that it is still a good project, no one has even offered a comment. Ed Martin even walked away with a fistfull of money for what looks like gross mismanagement.
    Yes Des, I agree that the project should be put on ice until everything (and I mean EVERYTHING)is fully investigated. This includes what backroom deals which were made by those elected to look out for our interests.

    This project may very well have to be completed now but given the consequential bills we will be faced with we will continue to be a have-not provionce---all because of monumental egos.

    To the people of Labrador--keep up the fight on the methyl murcury and North Spur issues. No one deserves to be killed (either slowly or suddenly) because of a stupid, stupid project.
    We will get ample power in 2041 anyway (unless that is also given away). If it was only the transmission line constructed to the Upper Churchill we could have availed of the recall power now and all the power we would ever need 25 years down the road. But no! We had to "go it alone" come Hell or Highwater.

    This Province had all the potential but was (and looks like still is) squandered away by what looks like unqualified people trying to look impressive. Who gave them the right to inflict this madness on its residents with no accountabilty whatsoever?

    God only can help us now unless the Feds step in.

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  4. `Insouciance`..........who would have ever thought this of Nalcor. I had to look it up, and found it an English word around since about 1800, derived from the French. It means indifference, but other meanings like calm. Picture Ed Martin at a press conference, with that smug, turtle like expression, a world class person at deception.
    Des knows just the perfect words to use. And does not Gil Bennett have that same characteristic as Martin. To impress us he compared the volume of the quarried rock pile to the pyramids in Egypt. I guess our public debt pile, much due to this project, is even bigger.
    I had trouble getting through the English and literature courses at MUN, but was very good at math and science, which enabled me to achieve an electrical engineer degree, and work at Nfld Hydro in the 1970s. Yet, I appreciate good writing and literature. And there is perhaps, no better writer, at this time, in our province than Des Sullivan. No doubt some would disagree.
    Yes, put this project ON ICE. Let`s freeze it as suggested. Indeed, the PUB will only be doing the Reliability issue review starting in Jan 2017. Liberty has already faulted Nalcor that reliability of the transmission line will be worse than stated....so bad that that we will need reliable thermal generation backup. I find it sickening that reliability should have to be done 4 years after a project is sanctioned and half complete. Heads should roll, and not just the head of Ed.
    And what is the plan for residents who may get hit with 21 cent(or higher) per kwh power bills. Even our new Consumer Advocate says this will not fly.......that residents will abandon electric heat at rates even much lower than this.
    Part of engineering for power systems is that the power be reliable and affordable and cost effective. Muskrat is none of this. It is an engineering failure on many fronts. It is a Gigantic Blunder. Put it on ice, until those with sounder minds can figure out how to go forward. We have gone backward on this for far too long.
    Winston Adams, Logy Bay

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  5. Yes it is a sad state of affairs for sure but no amount of belly aching or chatter will pay for this mess....I also agree it should be put on hold and refocus on how to finish with the least amount of pain inflicted..To stop completely in my opinion would not be an escape route as we are already to deep in this mess...The billions we have invested would be for not and a total waste to you and I..This is nothing new to us Newfoundlanders just another oh well here we go again deal..Raise my gas taxes ,home taxes, income taxes and oh ya my electrical bill and I will just lay down and take it... In my baymen opinion the federal government should suspend all power to the province to rule and come up with a critical path on how to complete this project that another premier has saddled my grand children with...

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  6. Send the bill to Danny Williams and Ed Martin, if anyone can find the b@$tards.

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    1. Well said.

      Maybe there should be legislation that does not exonerate political figures from 'mistakes'. I for one would gladly pay extra on my power bill to have a full in-depth investigation laying out timelines, contracts, and every piece of paper that Nalcor has to support this project (and who it came from). Who are the engineers, scientists and lawyers. Who did the least cost option researching? We all need to know.

      Donnie

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  7. The Feds may be forced to step in here. They signed the Federal Loan Guarantee. I would be surprised if the Province can afford the payments on the ballooning cost. A province with a population of 500,000 and incomes averaging 30-35K makes it look unrealistic that we will be able to pay.
    The project must be finished now regardless, so to protect the interests of the Canadian taxpayer the Feds may be forced to act

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  8. The new Consumer Advocate (Dennis Browne) says "there's so much money expended on it (Muskrat Falls) and it's so far progressed that (it) is probably not realistic (to stop it)."

    Where is the economic analysis (evidence) on which Mr. Browne (a lawyer) arrives at that conclusion?

    Economists will tell you that the money already spent (sunk costs) must not be factored into such an analysis.

    We need to look at the costs (financial, environmental, health, culture, risks, power rates, downward pressure on our businesses/economic base, etc.) left to complete it versus what are the benefits, if any,(useless water management agreement, no need for the power, no sensible outside markets, etc.) and the capacity of ratepayers/taxpayers, our economy to pay for it.

    Furthermore, full speed ahead is in line with the past and present political/government policy (it has nothing whatsoever to do with advocating for the consumer/ratepayer).

    The position, as I understand it, is "Consumer Advocate", not "Government/Nalcor Advocate". We have had enough of that under Tom Johnson. Maurice Adams

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    1. Well put Maurice.

      Earlier in the week Browne told Pete Soucy MF must be stopped now before it cause disaster and bankrupts Nalcor and will cause a flight from electricity when the price goes north of 22 cents KwH.

      He claimed and very much sounded like the person who claimed he made his position on MF clear to the government and that he works for the ratepayer/taxpayer NOT the government. It took only two days before he dialed that back on the CBC and sounded more like he works for Ball et al.

      Which is it Dennis? The people and the treasury or the purveyors of this perversion of democracy and due process? There is no place to hide for a Public advocate at this point!

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  9. I thought I also heard him say that it may be an opportune time to stop the project but that may not happen. guess they go with the flow rather than lead. If enough consumers are concerned about power rates and public debt and the mercury issue, safety of dam failure etc, then maybe Brown will advocate for stopping.Certainly, there is no analysis to say it is too late.

    Time will tell if he will challenge Stan Marshall and the government on this, but every week that passes buts us deeper in debt, they keep digging a bigger hole.
    In the end , the protesters will determine the fate of MF

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  10. Well put Des. MF should be put on ice permanently before NL is insolvent and a tragedy ensues.

    The key is overcoming the secrecy that has greased this boondoggle. The contracts with convicted fraudsters, the spur engineering plans, and so much more needs a PUBLIC airing.

    Trimper this week claimed he questions "the assumptions" of the Harvard researchers. That took chutzpa from the man that at the JRP was the "scientist" Nalcor touted demonstrating that there will be no mercury beyond the mouth of the river. Now he challenges the validity of of a peer reviewed published report from Harvard without evidence or producing an analysis. In effect Trimper is still saying mercury is not an issue for Lake Melville or beyond. Trimper is not a scientist (or Environment Minister for that matter), he is a Nalcor apologist.

    This week Trimper and Jerry Byrne stepped up the anti Harvard campaign by starting to attack and threaten the Harvard researchers. Byrne was particularly obnoxious threatening Johnathan Richler after Richler called Trimper a liar in his preamble. Richler's backbone turned to gelatin and he denied he had dared speak truth to power. When fair comment, true speech and peer reviewed scientists are attacked for their work we have arrived at a very dark place. Is the uprising now underway across NL the only option to a victimized populace? Will it be transparency or tragedy?

    Doelle and the rest of the JRP are not blameless in the tragic farce. They gave little if any weight to a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) document put on the record that showed the methyl mercury would contaminate Lake Melville and the Labrador Sea for hundreds of kilometers like it does in all other similar impoundments.

    The JRP ignored the testimony of two federal hydrgeologists who outlined the risk of North Spur collapse and massive bank erosion due to the quick clay. The JRP had the power to say NO GO to a project that posed "significant environmental risk" in their word. They could not determine MF was the "least cost option", the only justification Nalcor had for this project, yet they gave the green light with conditions. In addition to "The Disconnect Between EA & Implementation", Doelle needs to add "Panel Failure to Act On the Evidence" to the fatal flaws in Canada's EA regime. They had the power to say no based on strong evidence and they failed to do so.

    We are at a tipping point. Will democratic transparent oversight finally emerge or the secrecy and contempt for Labrador groups and the tax/ratepayer continue? Will the disturbing and escalating personal attacks from the likes of Byrne continue and will they continue to have disdain for human life and the treasury? If so there will be dark days ahead (no pun intended).

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  11. It is official, I have joined the ranks of the Muskrat protesters, whose slogan is MAKE MUSKRAT RIGHT. I, with two of my grandchildren, aged 8 and 11, went to the Colonial building Protest - Rally. At age 68, and having provided opinions and evidence at the PUB, 3 letters to the Telegram, many comments online to the Telegram, and Uncle Gnarley,over 4 years, with little if any benefit, I have decided to support the protesters. I estimate a crowd of some 500 to 600 attended.
    Winston Adams

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  12. I've been wanting to ask this somewhere and I don't know where else to ask it. I'm not being facetious but honestly wondering.

    I understand the reservoir for the Upper Churchill is different with more dykes and not as much flooding so to speak. But from what I can find online, there was still some flooding and I can't find any reference to land being cleared.

    If there wasn't as much forest in those flooded areas as we now hear people lining up to say clearing trees isn't enough, that fact should be irrelevant.

    As that area has been flooded 40 odd years, has there been any evidence of methyl mercury poisoning of people or the food supply. Conceivably the same people on the same river with the same food supply would have had some of the same impacts. I would have thought the effects would have been more noticeable back then as surely the populations in the area would have been more dependent. Has there historically been a higher incidence of this poisoning in this population base since the Upper Churchill project was complete? If not, why not?

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    1. It is my understanding that the Churchill river has mercury contamination from the Upper Churchill, and that this is in the food chain.
      And prior to the upper Churchill, the Innu hunted and fished from those areas. The Naskaupi Innu were settled to the shacks of Davis Inlet, to keep them off the area being flooded.
      As to how much mercury is bad , my dentist 20 years ago told me to remove all my silver fillings which have mercury content. Others says these fillings are not likely to make this necessary. As I have had recent issues, I try to avoid mercury fillings. I understand very small amounts, especially for children can result in impaired brain development. I fished very large lake trout in the Churchill Falls area in the 60s, I understand these are now mercury contaminated. Perhaps others can speak to this.

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    2. There was a short article on the VOCM website recently that looked into mercury contamination from the upper Churchill project. http://vocm.com/news/methylmercury-at-smallwood-reservoir-levels-still-high-decades-later/
      It indicated that levels rose in many species a few years after construction but has since reduced to background levels for species that are not predatory. Levels are still high in those predatory species.

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    3. Thanks, that may be the most coherent and thorough thing I've ever read on VOCM.

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  13. Todays VOCM question of the day: regardless of the cost, should the Muskrat project be halted until environmental concerns are addressed. The result :72 percent yes, 26 percent No. Over 20,000 responded.
    This is a large increase over just a few days when last the response to a temporary halt was 64 percent.
    The protesters have for now put this project ON ICE, as Uncle Gnarley suggested, and they seem to have overwhelming public support. For the protesters, some see the mercury as the main issue, some the mercury and the North Spur failure risk, and many see the whole project should be stopped permanently. What will be the outcome of Ball`s meeting on Tuesday. Seems that the issue of SAFETY should go beyond the work site.
    Winston Adams

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  14. 2010 power was 11c kWh and the "sell' of MF was it would only increase rates to 16.4c (+50%)V the alternatives of continued use of Bunker C at HRT. https://www.mun.ca/harriscentre/policy/memorialpresents/2012a/lower_chuchill_jan_2012.pdf MUN should force Wade Locke to update his presentation on Muskrat Falls. Do we need the power - page 6 conceptual Qs 1) Do we need the power? If we blindly follow Nalcor's energy forecasts of an additional 2000 GWH by 2041 and another 2000 GWH by 2067 then yes.
    P13: Empirical studies indicated that a 20% increase in price should reduce demand by 5%. Based on DG2 the residential demand should decrease by 12.5% because of 16.4c kWh power. I have yet to see any MF proponent take into account the sharp drop in residential demand due to excessive prices.
    P9 assumed demand (2018) 8806 GWH (2024) 9235 GWH so a 5% demand increase in 6 years when residential prices increased by 50%? Demand won't increase until 2036 now, Nalcor was just off by 20 years, demand was a pillar of MF justification.
    16.4c kWh would increase home power bills by $900 a year for the same 62GJ of consumption, while many of the MF proponents wouldn't feel this but the 60,000 on GIS and half of all taxes filed under $30,000 certainly will and simply can't afford it.
    No economic effects due to increased power bills? With less disposable income to spend all businesses that rely on customers will see drops in demand.
    P16: The professional attack on a fellow MUN professor
    "If prices are raised by 80%, we probably will not need the Muskrat Falls infeed either. Problem gone!
    An increase in prices will have a significant and negative adjustment cost to those who are most vulnerable and
    unable to adjust. While a professional can afford to replace electric heat with a high-efficient wood furnace when
    the price of electricity increases, his/her parents might not have the financial wherewithal to do it. They may simply have to adjust to the cold.
    We do not want that!"
    50% kWh increase is acceptable to MF proponents (remember DG2 was always going to be the low end of assumed kWh prices for MF) yet 80% is the breaking point. Current 12c kWh to 21.4c kWh is, wait for it, SEVENTY EIGHT percent price increase: by the proponents own logic ABORT the MF damn dam.
    P19: Am i Reading this chart right?
    Undiscounted isolated total $88,492M Muskrat $48,345M Difference $41,417M
    8% Discounted TC $8,810M MF $6,652M D $2,158M - why didn't Wade start with the Undiscounted $41,417M ($41 billion less) LCO? Undiscounted charts decimal point needs to be moved one to the left on quite a few occasions: you would think an Economics Head would have noticed this glaring typo that increased costs 10X as much as the other chart.
    P21: Ass out of u and me
    "By 2025, NALCOR’s assumed price of Heavy Fuel Oil reaches $133/barrel.
    In order for the fuel cost differential to be eliminated, you would need long term prices in the range of $50-60 US/bbl (2012) and that is just not in the cards. That is about 2/3
    of the NALCOR $88/bbl price."
    P32 - 42: Nalcor gives NLrs gas
    I don't see a single kWh price with a correlating NG/LNG price range or comparison to NG kWh prices throughout North America. "7,200 mmbtu per Gwh" --> 7.2mmbtu per MWH -> 0.0072mmbtu per kWh https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/n9133us3m.htm ($10.74 US) $14.31 LNG export price January 2016 ($17.55 June 2012) $23.38. Going with the all time US LNG export rate of $23.38mmbtu we get 16.8c kWh in LNG fuel costs or 10.3c kWh in LNG fuel costs for the 2016 current high LNG fuel costs.
    10-23c kWh in fuel prices for LNG is a wide range(high prices) but anything above the current electricity price will see subsequent demand decreases thereby less MMbtu required.
    HRT is required as a backup even with MF, Nalcor has skipped 2 middle men in the LiL transmission line(HM third line from Bay d'Espoir) for NLs power needs.
    LiL was ALWAYS bundled together with MF by the PCs/Nalcor, when it should have been viewed separately.

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    1. Part Two
      Nalcor's assumptions 1) demand would increase 2000GWH by 2041 2) Oil would forever remain at $100+ bbl 3) 0% demand decrease due to MFs extremely high kWh prices from DG2(16.4c kWh) - current(21.4c kWh) future (Xc kWh) 4) Cost would remain at $6.2B with a 10% contingency calculation factored in.

      Natural gas option completely ignored by MF proponents when it does have its merits: 33% cleaner V Bunker C oil, wouldn't require 1,100KM transmission line, Capital costs $1-2 billion, construction time 2 years.
      Fuel costs would vary from year to year but we have a decreasing population and haven't even begun a serious energy efficiency program (less demand/peak demand = less costs for electricity overall)
      Jim Feehan never suggested increasing electricity 80% to curb demand, that was Wade's poor attempt at a joke.
      P3 last sentence: My professional reputation is important to me!

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