Tuesday, 15 March 2016


‘If you are hunting bears, don’t go chasing rabbits’ is a familiar warning not to do something far less important than what you hope to achieve. The metaphor is perfectly applicable to those who devote great energies to minor political issues, leaving the larger ones virtually untouched.

Talk of austerity will expose many examples. Disapproval towards the Mayor of St. John’s, who is on a junket to some cruise line conference at a cost in the neighbourhood of $6,000, is one. The trip is winning more press than disclosure he had negotiated, at least initially, with Danny Williams for a 20 acre parcel of his real estate, reportedly having a price tag of $8.5 million; a secretive process that kept others at bay. The deal did not get finished. But that his head wasn’t called for or that guidelines at City Hall weren’t immediately strengthened to prevent such abuses of power, is proof of vastly misaligned public policy priorities by both the media and people, generally.

The Premier and his Fisheries Minister have been chided for attending a Fisheries Exhibition, too. Amidst a $2 billion deficit on current account, minds need to be turned to a plethora of bigger issues involving big money. It’s tantamount to tracing rabbits; it won’t get you real change.

Of course, everyone has pet peeves.  As one citizen, mine is the Office of the Consumer Advocate to the PUB. I am hoping the Minister of Finance will wield the Budget axe, and do away with this edifice to worthlessness.

I suggest we can’t afford paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs and fees when the Muskrat Falls Power Purchase Agreement (the “take or pay” contract) has made the Office irrelevant for the next fifty years. 

Besides, this Consumer Advocate has rendered it a useless appendage anyway, making it mere detritus among the low hanging fruit ideal for plucking in the race to stave off insolvency. $307,410 last year and $860,976 the year earlier isn't small change (see excerpt from PUB 2014-15 Annual Report below). 

While the sums are accounted for in the Financial Statements of the PUB, the charges are embedded in your monthly electrical bills.

An advocate is a “champion, a crusader, a fighter”, in this case, for the interests of rate paying consumers of electricity.  But Tom Johnson is none of those things, though he is amply paid for the role.

Johnson was a disappointment from the get go.

He was the one who couldn’t wait to please Cathy Dunderdale and Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, going so far as to urge Muskrat Falls sanction, even prior to Manitoba Hydro International reporting. Johnson concluded the project represented “the least cost option of the two alternatives examined”; a thesis so fundamentally wrong that an Advocate with courage would have admitted his bad judgment long ago. His desire to not be offside with Nalcor has aided an emerging energy and financial debacle.

Imagine that the Consumer Advocate is among the standard bearers whose acquiescence to power corrupted will help augur in a new era in which the cost of electricity will be double current rates; a situation that will not just injure people in a personal way but also drive away business and industry, which are always sensitive to input costs.

This is advocacy? For the consumer?

He sided with Newfoundland Hydro (NLH) to quash the requirement that Nalcor answer a list of questions submitted by the Grand River Keepers (GRK) of Labrador and Danny Dumaresque, in the PUB’s investigation into DARKNL. 

Now, ratepayers are in for a bit of a screwing as Nalcor and the Consumer Advocate are, again, found on the same side.

Recently, Nalcor filed an Application with the PUB seeking approval to levy $33.3 million on ratepayers for the thousands of liters of diesel fuel it forecasts will be needed to offset low water levels in its hydro reservoirs, in 2016.

He blurts out to a CBC Reporter: “…it's not abnormal for Hydro to pass the "reasonable and prudently incurred costs" of producing electricity on to ratepayers...” He adds: “We have no control over how much precipitation falls from the sky and that's generally considered to be fair". Yet, by any standard Nalcor has failed to prove its case in the current PUB Application, as a post on this Blog.recently detailed.

The Consumer Advocate exhibits a similarly passive view about Holyrood.

Tom Johnson told CBC recently:  “the very time that you'd like to be able to see Holyrood given a little bit of a break, we're seeing Holyrood and these other assets are being called upon more heavily". 

Johnson speaks of Holyrood as if it is an old dog, one that, if given a rest now and again, would perform better. He seems unaware Holyrood, Hardwoods, and NL Hydro’s other facilities, represent a collection of mechanical assets which require regular and competent management and maintenance, and nothing more. At least, that is the view of Liberty, an independent engineering Consultancy, hired by the PUB. Liberty found that a “continuing and unacceptably high risk of outages from such causes remains for the 2015-2017 winter seasons”.

The Consumer Advocate forgets that critical facilities, which consumers and business rely on, are only now being scheduled for maintenance, notwithstanding the vast increase in demand for power, especially since 2010. 

Again, the people’s champion girds himself to confront the PUB as might a kitten chasing a mouse but with the attitude and intellectual ferocity of neither.

PUB Chairman Andy Wells may as well bring his “smelly” to the docket when Tom Johnson stands up to discuss Nalcor’s Rate Application.   


Johnson is content with Nalcor’s “low precipitation” story, unable to connect the dots to the parade of fuel tankers with Hydro’s refusal to deal with unfettered residential and commercial electrical demand fueled by power thirsty baseboard heating. He doesn’t mention the 73 megawatts the Williams Government committed to Vale in a deal where the Province undertook the capital cost of providing this large block of power or argue that the cost has no place in the rate base.

He didn’t even conduct a basic review of Nalcor’s hydrology claims; ‘we have no control over precipitation’, a lazy out for a meek Advocate, to be sure.

As it stands, ratepayers have no one in their camp; the Consumer Advocate confirms this is a place where arrant, misguided, and possibly conflicted policymakers are excused.
This Consumer Advocate is a waste of money; money that is needed for a good many other uses.

Forget the rabbits, at least for now. On a fiscal level, the public needs to place big game in the crosshairs. 

The Minister of Finance can have Tom Johnson's budget.

Ratepayers won’t even notice.