Muskrat Falls — there’s far too much at risk

The Western Star - - Editorial -

Pam Framp­ton, in her Oct. 7 Tele­gram col­umn, “In­quir­ing minds want to know” states that “With more than 80 per cent of the (Muskrat Falls) work fin­ished, the prov­ince can’t af­ford — fi­nan­cially, legally or prac­ti­cally — to stop now.”

First, let me say that the phrase “80 per cent of the work fin­ished” can be mis­lead­ing.

When the trans­mis­sion line work is in­cluded in that state­ment, the to­tal per­cent­age of the project work com­pleted is “av­er­aged up.” The trans­mis­sion line is al­most 100 per cent com­plete. Whereas the sep­a­rate multi-bil­lion-dol­lar gen­er­a­tion com­po­nent is about 50 to 60 per cent com­plete. And it is with re­spect to the gen­er­a­tion com­po­nent that bil­lions of ad­di­tional dol­lars re­main to be spent. That is where the risk of methylmer­cury comes from. That is where the risk of wip­ing out Mud Lake comes from. That is where the loss of life and risks for Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay comes from. That is where the risk of a breach of the North Spur comes from. That is where a very large part of the on­go­ing/multi-year/ multi-bil­lion-dol­lar op­er­at­ing/ in­ter­est and main­te­nance costs come from, etc.

On or about April 2011, I was asked by the CBC what I thought of the Muskrat Falls project. I replied that we didn’t need it, we couldn’t af­ford it and it was too high a risk. As can now be seen from my ear­lier com­ment, pro­ceed­ing, con­tin­u­ing or stop­ping Muskrat Falls can­not be pred­i­cated only on (as Ms. Framp­ton seems to think) whether or not we can af­ford it.

Af­ford­abil­ity alone is “not suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence of truth.”

“Need” — We didn’t need the Muskrat project then, and in­creas­ingly the ev­i­dence shows that we don’t need it now (en­ergy con­sump­tion and peak de­mand are both mov­ing down, not up and bet­ter op­tions are avail­able).

“Af­ford­abil­ity” — The prov­ince and the peo­ple can­not af­ford it, now even more than in 2011 (per kilo­watt hour gen­er­a­tion, in­ter­est, op­er­at­ing and main­te­nance costs are out of this world, and on a per capita ba­sis our pro­vin­cial li­a­bil­i­ties are worse than Puerto Rico’s, whose demo­cratic govern­ment is now un­der the yoke of a U.S.A. fed­er­ally ap­pointed com­mis­sion).

“Risks” — The prov­ince has no con­trol over the river’s flow, on which the project’s es­ti­mated gen­er­a­tion ca­pac­ity de­pends (the so-called water man­age­ment agree­ment has been struck down by the Que­bec court). Cul­tural and health risks to Labrador’s In­dige­nous peo­ples are im­moral, un­ac­cept­able and con­trary to UN in­ter­na­tional law. Nal­cor re­lies in part on cer­tain “av­er­age” geotech­ni­cal test val­ues and ex­trap­o­lated shear stress/strength nu­mer­i­cal analy­ses to con­clude that pro­gres­sive land­slide fail­ure (a flowslide) can­not oc­cur on the North Spur, even though the 1978 ma­jor land­slide that oc­curred on the North Spur was so cat­e­go­rized.

In short, the ini­tial is­sues (need, af­ford­abil­ity and risks) have all sig­nif­i­cantly moved in the wrong di­rec­tion, and if the gen­er­a­tion com­po­nent is not stopped, its im­pact as to the vi­a­bil­ity of this project will be neg­a­tively af­fected.

Yes, it is too late and not prac­ti­cal to stop the trans­mis­sion com­po­nent (the trans­mis­sion line can bring our re­call power, or some cheap pur­chase power from the Up­per Churchill for our own use, help mit­i­gate our obli­ga­tions to Nova Sco­tia and elim­i­nate the need for the gen­er­a­tion com­po­nent).

Stat­ing, with­out “suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence,” that we can­not af­ford to stop the project is not in the least con­sis­tent with Sa­muel John­son’s un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ple — that truth, even in the case of Muskrat Falls, re­quires “suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence.”

Where is the ev­i­dence that the fi­nan­cial/le­gal/con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions that govern­ment has im­posed on us out­weigh the now more ob­vi­ous and real ev­i­dence re­lated to de­creased need, de­creased af­ford­abil­ity and in­creased risk?

What is needed now, as a crit­i­cal part of any in­quiry, is a thor­ough as­sess­ment and de­ter­mi­na­tion of how best to re­duce the risks/ex­po­sure that this boon­dog­gle has im­posed on us.

We do not need a pub­lic in­quiry for the sake of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency. We need a re­view or pub­lic in­quiry that ad­dresses the pri­or­ity is­sues head on and that is au­tho­rized to make the kind of find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions that will (as in Australia) make a dif­fer­ence.

We need, and must have, as Sa­muel John­son says, “suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence of truth.”

Mau­rice E. Adams

Par­adise

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