Con­sumers de­serve stronger ad­vo­cacy on Muskrat Falls

The Labradorian - - EDITORIAL - Mau­rice E. Adams Par­adise

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.

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