Consumers deserve stronger advocacy on Muskrat Falls
Liberal appointed consumer advocate Dennis Browne, in his letter of Aug. 19 (“Actions must be taken to address Muskrat Falls”), suggests the Public Utilities Board now be given a general (broad) terms of reference so Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Newfoundland Power, “expert” economists, etc., can help the PUB develop a “performance rate-based” system to help keep electricity rates low and to identify “affordable electricity.”
Make no mistake, this is nothing more than obfuscation and an attempt at political cover for Dwight Ball’s government.
Not unlike the Progressive Conservative government’s attempt years ago to get the PUB on side, Browne’s suggestion is little more than a more recent attempt to shift the public’s attention away from connecting government with this failed Muskrat Falls boondoggle and soon-to-be high electricity rates.
It is well known that Ottawa (the loan “guarantor”) required the Newfoundland and Labrador government to pass legislation that ensures island electricity rates will be sufficient to meet Muskrat’s debt-payment needs (and thus also ensure the federal government’s risks were well covered).
The federal loan guarantee (Schedule A, paragraph 3), and subsequent provincial legislation and the N.L. Hydro power purchase agreement requires, in effect, that N.L. ratepayers pay whatever rates are needed to ensure that all final costs, borrowing, debt servicing, fees, etc., for Muskrat Falls are covered — no matter what it costs, no matter how little power is needed or used, no matter what.
It is also well known that as part of the Muskrat Falls project agreement, Newfoundland’s existing “affordable electricity” will in large part soon be going (for no revenue) to Nova Scotia for 35 years.
Furthermore, to suggest that now is time to negotiate “a true partnership” with the province of Quebec is to negotiate from a position of weakness (and even Donald Trump knows better).
As for Browne’s suggestion that there should be a public inquiry “when all the evidence can be produced,” Browne says nothing about the need for a benefit/cost analysis of stopping the construction of an unneeded and uneconomic dam/ generation facility, nothing about the benefit of conducting a forensic audit, nothing about the potential for saving billions of dollars in unnecessary construction, debt serving and operating costs, nothing about the need for an expert review of the North Spur, and nothing about the potential for reconfiguring the project so that the transmission line can be completed more expeditiously and more reliably.
I would have thought that as consumer advocate Browne would at least have had the courage not to use code language and not to say that there should be a public inquiry only “when all the evidence can be produced” (when the project is finished).
As consumer advocate, Browne should be a voice for consumers now, and not a voice parroting government’s political agenda. With respect to the need to reduce project costs, mitigate electricity rates and for a public inquiry, government should not be playing politics, not looking to shift the blame, but should act now, and not wait until long after the province’s treasury has already been looted.