In­quiry ‘in­evitable’: ad­vo­cate

Den­nis Browne adds voice to those call­ing for full pub­lic probe of project

The Western Star - - Close To Home - BY JAMES MCLEOD SALTWIRE NET­WORK

The prov­ince’s con­sumer ad­vo­cate is join­ing the call for a pub­lic in­quiry into Muskrat Falls, say­ing a full, trans­par­ent ex­am­i­na­tion is nec­es­sary in light of how the mas­sive hy­dro­elec­tric project was sanc­tioned.

“I think it is in­evitable there will be a full pub­lic in­quiry,” con­sumer ad­vo­cate Den­nis Browne said.

“Peo­ple have to be held to ac­count, be­cause it has turned into a boon­dog­gle. It is a failed project. We don’t have any idea where it will end.”

The con­sumer ad­vo­cate is a po­si­tion with a for­mal role to par­tic­i­pate in Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board hear­ings when it comes to reg­u­lat­ing power rates. Browne is sup­posed to be the voice of the con­sumers.

Browne was one of the prom­i­nent crit­ics of the Muskrat Falls project in the lead-up to for­mal sanc­tion­ing of the project. He said there was plenty of in­for­ma­tion at the time to know the hy­dro­elec­tric project was un­nec­es­sary and would wind up as a ma­jor eco­nomic bur­den for the prov­ince.

Pre­mier Dwight Ball has said an in­quiry is a pos­si­bil­ity for Muskrat Falls — so is a foren­sic au­dit of Nal­cor En­ergy — but not un­til the hy­dro­elec­tric project is fully built, so the in­ves­ti­ga­tion doesn’t dis­rupt op­er­a­tions.

Brown was largely in agree­ment with the idea of wait­ing.

But when he sat down with SaltWire Net­work this week, Browne made it clear his frus­tra­tions over the 2011 and 2012 sanc­tion­ing process are still rel­e­vant to­day.

“We wanted due process be­fore the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board. That’s all we ever wanted,” Browne said.

“We knew if there was due process there and they fol­lowed the law, it would never have passed the pa­ram­e­ters of the Elec­tric Power Con­trol Act, which re­quired the low­est pos­si­ble cost at rea­son­able rates.”

To­day, the discussion has turned from whether to build Muskrat Falls — it’s 76 per cent built, al­beit wildly over bud­get — to the prob­lem that elec­tric­ity rates, once Muskrat Falls starts gen­er­at­ing power, will be pro­hib­i­tively high.

“Muskrat Falls power rates can­not be as­sumed by the ratepay­ers of the prov­ince. It would ruin house­hold economies, busi­ness economies, mu­nic­i­pal economies,” Browne said. “It would have a dis­as­trous ef­fect on the en­tire prov­ince.”

The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment is al­ready on top of this, al­though the plans are still hazy.

In the bud­get speech this spring, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett said she’s di­rect­ing Nal­cor to fig­ure out how to mit­i­gate rates.

“Fu­ture elec­tric­ity rate man­age­ment is a pri­or­ity of our gov­ern­ment. Nal­cor has been di­rected to source $210 mil­lion to lower elec­tric­ity rates start­ing in 2020-21, with this pre­lim­i­nary rate re­serve grow­ing to $245 mil­lion in the fol­low­ing fis­cal years,” Ben­nett said in the bud­get speech. “We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing elec­tric­ity rates are com­pet­i­tive and will un­der­take work to fur­ther de­fine mit­i­ga­tion ac­tions and dol­lars re­quired.”

But Browne said this “ad hoc” ap­proach is mis­guided, and it should fi­nally come back to the PUB to un­tan­gle the mess.

“Rates have to be set and ap­proved by the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board in an open fo­rum,” he said.

Browne said ul­ti­mately it will be nec­es­sary for tax­pay­ers to sub­si­dize power rates, and it might take some cre­ative ap­proaches to billing to help ad­dress the huge cost of Muskrat Falls.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.