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Thursday 1 May 2014


Though Nalcor CEO Ed Martin has confirmed the Muskrat Falls Project is undergoing "cost pressures" his statement will likely become repetitious.

His early trip to the confessional is more than just an affirmation that ratepayers and taxpayers will be bitten; it is an admission of that Agency’s incompetence for having pursued a foolish project in the first place. 

If Ed Martin’s guarded revelation (he won’t say how much over-budget) was made mid-way or near the end of the Project, just possibly the public might experience some solace that the damage is containable.  But the Project has barely begun.  The project is already a year behind schedule.   

Nalcor is struggling to stave off disaster.
Proof that the Project is off the rails is slowly emerging. Appendix "A" of the Independent Engineer's Report  contains a summary of anticipated award dates for the Major Contract Packages.  The dates were summarized for the original DG3 schedule and the forecast schedule of August, 2013. 

When you compare the Independent Engineer’s August  2013 schedule with the actual status contained in the February 2014 Monthly Report,  it is clear that Nalcor is unable to stay on schedule. 
That ability to meet deadlines is fundamental to the success of the construction business. It is really the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for identifying the costly problem of delay.  The schedule is rarely improved during construction. 

The Independent Engineer (IE) was wise to point out that Nalcor’s schedule was too aggressive given the large project's remote location.  The IE indicated a range of 5 to 7 years.  Nalcor’s schedule was based on 5.25 years. 

The question is this: are the delays identified by Ed Martin the result of proactive planning to reduce costs, or are they the result of Nalcor consistently not meeting its project milestones?  Is the lower cost argument purely ‘spin’ used to mask the evident under-performance by his project team?
Ed Martin advanced the idea that he was prepared to modify the construction schedule to save money.  Even if true, he could not have meant “savings” as you and I define them.  He must have meant ‘savings’ in the context of a worse outcome.
How much more would a one year delay in completion of Muskrat Falls cost?
A Professional Engineer, one familiar with large-scale Projects, offers this computation:
          ~$300 - Interest During Construction (IDC) including interest paid by the Government on its      
                       equity contribution to Nalcor (which shows up as Provincial debt).
             ~$30 million - direct management costs.
             ~$20 million - site costs. 
Total:  ~$350 million additional cost for one construction year. 
Ed Martin is going to spend ~$350 million as a cost savings measure? I don't think so.

Ed Martin seems to be a person more into ‘voodoo’ economics than widely accepted principles like ‘time value of money’. 
Yesterday, Wednesday, April 30th the Telegram reported him saying delays in the Muskrat Falls project won’t add to the interest to be paid on Nalcor's $5 billion construction loan.    

Martin is pretending he is a home owner who simultaneously pays rent and interest while his house is being built except Martin wants you to believe the extra year’s rent don’t add to his project costs. 

We should worry when public servants also engage in ‘spin’.

A delay in Muskrat Falls robs the project of cash flow every day commissioning is delayed, depriving the Company of revenue that can be applied to interest and other costs.  

Nalcor, like any other business, must capitalize ‘interest during construction’ (IDC). It is a cost feature of the Project - no different than labour and materials.  In Nalcor's case, the additional cost is recaptured via your power bills. 

In that connection Martin failed to note he has not disclosed the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) which will determine the power rate you will be charged to pay off the cost of Muskrat Falls.  That means the PPA can still be changed at any time.

What is more, a 1 year delay seems now to be a best case scenario.   The same Professional Engineer who reviewed these delay costs suggests a more likely completion date is early 2019. 
Ed Martin is not alone in the 'spin' department.  He is joined by Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley.
The Minister stated Nalcor has no liability to pay penalties for failing to supply the Maritime Block until Muskrat’s completion. He omits the fact that all such contracts contain a "time is of the essence" clause“.  This is a statement of warning to the contracting parties that performance is expected within the proscribed period of time failing which damages may be claimed by the injured party.
Emera will not be prepared to sit for long on its $1.5 billion investment in the Maritime Link without compensation.  It is possible that Emera is behind schedule, too.  But, don’t expect full disclosure, on these issues, until a general election is out of the way.
Minister Dalley also failed to mention the impact of a delay on the Energy Access Agreement (EAA).  That’s the sweetened deal Nalcor gave Nova Scotia in order to obtain the NS UARB’s support and to trigger the Federal Loan Guarantee.   
The EAA is a 24 year Agreement under which Nalcor has committed a cumulative total of 28.8 TWh of electricity (in addition to the Maritime Block).
The EAA specifically runs until 2041 and legally requires Nalcor to supply virtually all its so-called surplus or ‘market-priced’ power to a maximum of 1.8 terawatt hours (TWh) or an average 1.2 TWh annually over the 24 years. 
In order to achieve the cumulative total of 28.8 TWh during the Term, the minimum offering to Emera of 1.2 TWh will have to increase because the contract period is naturally shorter. 
Unless Nalcor and Emera have entered into a side deal, one not released for public consumption, Emera may invoke a Condition called “Variance” in which Nalcor is legally committed to 75% of its electricity obligation.  ("THE NEW DEAL WITH EMERA: WHAT WILL NALCOR THINK OF NEXT?" offers an explanation of the EAA and the Variance  Clause.) 

Where will all that power come from?


In a nutshell, any delay in the Muskrat Falls Project is serious. The additional commitments to which Nalcor has obligated us will further challenge our pocketbooks and our patience. 
For now, though, the masters of political 'spin' want those problems to escape public notice. 
It could have something to do with the timing of the next general election.  

Now, that might be a far better reason why time is of the essence!