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Thursday 15 September 2016


It is tough to keep up with the craziness. 

A few weeks ago Danny Williams was in the media saying that the Muskrat Falls project is still a good deal for the province and that we shouldn’t be concerned because all megaprojects experience overruns.  

He repeated an assertion that should bring howls of laughter (derision actually) that the project will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the province. At $11.4 billion and counting you have to be pretty brazen to make the claim, as did Williams, that your biggest concern is that "someone is going to screw it up."

Even the recognition by Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall, that the current project represents a cost to rate payers of 21.4 cents per kWh and that revenue on export sales will represent a reduction of less than a cent per kWh, seems not to have blunted the ardour of the former Premier. (Note that Stan Marshall is referring not to the cost of MF power but to a "blended" price and he makes no reference to the fact that the rate applicable to MF power generation is not even the full price in the early years after commissioning - so even at 21.4 cents per KWh Marshall is quoting a price designed to avoid "rate shock".)

Now, Williams wants the entire Province up in arms because Stan Marshall is said to be negotiating away Muskrat Falls, Gull Island, and the Upper Churchill (again) to Hydro Quebec

Based upon his recent outburst on NTV, Danny wants us to be mad - not at him - but at the Nalcor CEO.

In time we will deal with Stan Marshall, and a Liberal Government that sanctions any crazy plan to relieve the public of the financial burden of Williams' crazy scheme. After all, if Marshall is up to such madness, it is precisely because this is the road down which Williams has led the province. 

Besides, we might ask: how would Williams know? 

Are Danny's friends who still occupy senior posts at Nalcor doing an end run around Stan Marshall as they counsel him that everything is fine at Muskrat Falls - just keep the money coming? Does socializing with Williams give him unwarranted access to the play-by-play unfolding within the Crown Corporation?

Is Stan Marshall as dumb as he seems, having make no changes to either senior management or to the Muskrat Falls project, possibly believing as he has stated, that the management team has learned from their mistakes - even as he ignores that, for most of them, Muskrat is their first major civil project, not their 5th or 10th?

Stan Marshall has already indicated he is attempting to bury the hatchet with Hydro Quebec and that an agreement on one issue has already been concluded which might otherwise have gone to court. Should we question Premier Ball regarding the latitude he might have given Marshall? We should.     

But Williams is not a credible spokesperson to tackle any unwise strategy Stan Marshall may be contemplating. He simply isn't.

The province is facing project costs of $13-15 billion and 21.4 cent per KWh power or higher. Yet, Williams seems incapable of coming to grips with the reality that there is only one group of people expected to pay for the Muskrat Falls boondoggle - that is the Island ratepayer. 

Williams refuses to take responsibility for his unctious public policy decisions as Premier. He not only spews nonsense that the province can double the total capacity of Muskrat, Gull and the Upper with Labrador's wind power potential, he doesn't relate the silly strategy to cost, to the province's fiscal capacity, or to a marketplace that won't pay even a tenth of the production and transmission costs of such a scheme. Williams himself, not Labrador in this case, is where the wind is coming from. 

Most importantly, Williams ignores the human and economic costs that high electricity rates post-Muskrat will impose. He refuses to acknowledge that people will be forced to choose between food and electricity

Photo Credit: Sun Times Own Sound, ON
Consider what is going on in rural Ontario right now. Bruce County is home to one of Ontario’s largest sources of electric power – the Bruce Power nuclear generating station, providing upwards of 30 per cent of Ontario’s electricity. Still, the nuclear plant does little for local residents, all of whom pay steep delivery charges to Hydro One.

Those events offer a glimpse of what is in store in Newfoundland.  

In July Global News reported: “The severity of the situation extends well beyond the struggles of any one particular family. Since January of this year, Bruce and Grey Counties have reviewed the applications of more than 200 people seeking assistance with their hydro bills. Some of these individuals are recently unemployed or back at work after an extended period, while others are facing issues such as long-term illness and disability.”

The Global News story included this comment: “People have to choose what they’ve got to pay,” said Phil Sams, a resident of Bruce County who has already faced one disconnection notice. “Most people choose keeping the lights on and then they starve for the month, which I think is ridiculous.”

The Frazer Institute, a public policy think tank, weighed into the issue: It referred to a United Way Report which “detailed the experience of one rural Ontarian who struggles with energy costs. She shuts off her water heater during the day, hangs her laundry to dry, avoids using the air conditioner, and only runs the dishwasher at night. Despite these energy saving measures, she runs electricity bills around $300 a month.”

The Sun Times in Own Sound noted that Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, “…pointed to national news reports that quote the Ontario Energy Board as saying nearly 60,000 residential customers were disconnected in 2015 from hydro services due to non-payment.  That number was confirmed by The Sun Times…”

Added Dobbyn: “If we had 30 kids in Ontario with the measles, we'd have a health crisis. With 60,000 households in Ontario who were disconnected from hydro, that's a crisis. And in rural Ontario, when that disconnection means you can't use your well, that's a public health crisis”.

The Owen Sound Sun Times story states “Rural residents, on average, pay almost double the delivery rates compared to households in “urban high density” areas, according to the United Way report.”

Those areas pay in excess of 18 cents per KWh for their electricity, except in off-peak hours.

Now, what person except Danny Williams, is incapable of doing the simple extrapolation of the misery meted out in rural Ontario and giving it a Newfoundland context.

Yet, he is allowed an ad nauseum rant on NTV as Glen Carter, Host of the Carter File, is unwilling to have him answer for his role in the human tragedy slowly unfolding in the province. 

Carter makes no attempt to raise any such issues - though Nalcor, under Stan Marshall, has made no secret of the cost of Muskrat power or that the problem may be further aggravated by continuing cost overruns. The requirement for more reserve thermal capacity, too (consistent with the Liberty Report) can only further compound the problem.

What has Williams to say to all those people facing this financial imposition and the huge impact on their quality of life represented by outrageous power costs? 

Can't NTV or for that matter the public broadcaster and the media generally, not connect the dots on the economic and human implications of the issue, especially for those on limited and fixed incomes.

Why on earth must buffoonery be permitted to constitute news!

Williams is fooling no one except, perhaps, the NTV Host. Williams may as well get ready for the howls of people who are about to confuse their mortgage payments with their electricity bills.

He is about to discover just how quickly a public in financial distress can alter their perception - even possibly of the Hydro Quebec bogeyman - something that Stan Marshall might be counting on. 

But Danny Williams should be most worried that he replaces Hydro Quebec, as public enemy #1. A cold house and an empty going to make a lot of people damn mad!