Power trip?

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial - Russell Wanger­sky Russell Wanger­sky can be reached at russell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

You can ac­cuse New­found­land and Labrador Hy­dro of a lot of things, but surely you can’t ac­cuse them of be­ing po­lit­i­cally savvy.

Last week, the util­ity filed a re­sponse to two Labrador groups that are ques­tion­ing the need for a new, $20-mil­lion power line to Happy Val­leyGoose Bay.

The prob­lem, as the groups de­scribe it, is that the power line is be­ing built to sup­ply power to data cen­tres in Labrador, and for the pro­posed 2020 con­ver­sion of the Goose Bay base to elec­tric boil­ers, might not even be nec­es­sary.

The two groups — the Iron Ore Com­pany of Canada and a con­sor­tium of the towns in the Labrador In­ter­con­nected elec­tri­cal sys­tem — say Hy­dro hasn’t done its home­work, and hasn’t proven that the in­vest­ment is re­quired. The case they’ve made is that the base boiler con­ver­sion project is only in the plan­ning stages, and while the data cen­tres use plenty of power, they are hardly guar­an­teed to stay: the equip­ment is mo­bile, and one of the ma­jor things that makes a lo­ca­tion at­trac­tive is low power rates — if those rates change, and Labrador rates are fore­cast to rise, data cen­tres have been known to sim­ply pull the plug and move to greener pas­tures.

The power line could even af­fect the vi­a­bil­ity of a ma­jor player: IOC, as a ma­jor power user, es­ti­mates fi­nanc­ing and pay­ing for the line will cost it an ad­di­tional $900,000 a year for the next 40 years.

Both groups want to in­ter­vene dur­ing the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board re­view of the project to es­tab­lish if Hy­dro’s case is a valid one.

But Hy­dro doesn’t want them at the ta­ble.

To be blunt, this is­sue is the con­struc­tion of a power line in Labrador, for Labrado­ri­ans, us­ing Labrador power, and that will be paid for com­pletely by Labrador res­i­dents and com­pa­nies. But those same Labrado­ri­ans aren’t wel­come at the ta­ble where the de­ci­sion will be made.

Hy­dro’s complaint?

That the in­ter­ven­tion doesn’t fit the ex­ist­ing sched­ule.

They put it like this: “To grant th­ese par­ties in­ter­venor sta­tus now would ren­der mean­ing­less the sched­ule set by the Board for deal­ing with this mat­ter. A party that has stand­ing be­fore the Board has the right to know, with cer­tainty, the is­sues that it will be re­quired to ad­dress as part of a pro­ceed­ing and the time­frame in which that process will oc­cur. This is a ba­sic el­e­ment of pro­ce­dural fair­ness … fail­ing which, Hy­dro sub­mits, those pro­ceed­ings could not be con­ducted in any or­ga­nized or ef­fi­cient man­ner.”

Hy­dro de­scribes the re­quest for a pres­ence at the ta­ble as an “in­ter­rup­tion”: “Hy­dro was pre­par­ing a fi­nal re­ply re­gard­ing the re­vised in­for­ma­tion filed sum­ma­riz­ing and ex­plain­ing th­ese crit­i­cal projects, the date for which fil­ing the re­ply was in­ter­rupted by th­ese re­quests for in­ter­venor sta­tus.”

A let­ter from the Labrador In­ter­con­nected Group’s lawyers puts their an­swer to that snub pretty bluntly: “The Labrador In­ter­con­nected Group and IOC are the only Labrador-based ratepay­ers who have ap­plied for in­ter­ven­tion in this pro­ceed­ing. Un­less the Board ac­cepts the Labrador In­ter­con­nected Group and IOC as in­ter­ven­ers, it will be forced to make a de­ci­sion with sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts that fall al­most ex­clu­sively on Labrador cus­tomers but with no in­put from Labrador in­ter­ven­ers.”

The group points out that they’re not fil­ing new ev­i­dence, they just want to be heard on one cru­cial, cen­tral point. As they put it, “whether there is suf­fi­cient in­for­ma­tion on the record for the Board to make a de­ci­sion to ap­prove the project.”

It’s sur­pris­ing that New­found­land Hy­dro hasn’t re­al­ized that, with up­com­ing power in­creases and the not-too-dis­tant Muskrat sur­prise, they’re not the most pop­u­lar kid at the prom.

Kick­ing sand in the faces of Labrado­ri­ans who have le­git­i­mate ques­tions (the equiv­a­lent of “Let them eat the price of new power lines”) is prob­a­bly not the best re­sponse.

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