Newfoundland orders report on easing Muskrat Falls pain
Wants Public Utilities Board to assess the electricity-related activities of Nalcor Energy.
ST. JOHN’S, NL — Premier Dwight Ball announced another step in Newfoundland and Labrador’s plan to grapple with power rates that are expected to double by 2021 in the wake of the “ill conceived” Muskrat Falls hydro megaproject.
The province is asking the Public Utilities Board to assess the electricity-related activities of Nalcor Energy, the Crown corporation overseeing the Labrador project, as part of efforts to ease the project’s looming financial burden.
The announcement comes amid growing concern that the consequences of what Ball called “the greatest fiscal mistake in Newfoundland and Labrador’s history” will be borne by the province’s taxpayers through steep power bill increases.
“Not only is it not acceptable, we will not let it happen,” Ball said in St. John’s on Wednesday.
The Labrador project is now more than $6 billion over budget.
The board will provide an interim report in February 2019 and a final report in January 2020, offering non-binding potential options for managing the impact of Muskrat Falls costs on electricity costs up until the year 2030, or earlier if the board sees fit.
These recommendations could include solutions like exporting power to other markets or further electrification of operations that currently rely on oil and gas for power.
Ball called the estimated rate increase to 22.89 cents per kilowatt hour in 2021 “unacceptable,” but the parameters of the board’s investigation did not include a ballpark “acceptable” amount.
The review is just one step of the Liberal government’s Mitigating Muskrat plan, but the final plan of how the province will pay for the project, and how much taxpayer money will be required, has yet to be released.
Leaders of the provincial Conservative and New Democratic parties were in attendance for Ball’s announcement in St. John’s.
NDP Leader Gerry Rogers said the announcement, which comes 15 days before a provincial byelection in Windsor Lake district of St. John’s, doesn’t “pass the smell test,” wondering why the Liberal government did not involve the Public Utilities Board sooner.
“This is a serious problem, this is about people’s lives and how they can maintain their families, so we cannot push this much further,” Rogers said of the impending rate increases.
Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie, who is running for the Windsor Lake legislature seat, called the announcement a “nothing burger,” and suggested that federal money will need to be involved to pay for Muskrat Falls.
When asked about if he feels ownership over the decisions of the previous Progressive Conservative government that approved the project, Crosbie said he would leave it up to the upcoming commission of inquiry to determine who is accountable.
“I take extreme ownership of the future, I can’t be an apologist for the past,” said Crosbie.
“My focus is on where the people want it to be, which is on the future and how to cope with this.”
Public hearings for the provincial commission of inquiry into spending on the Muskrat Falls will begin on Sept. 17 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.