If you accept Nalcor CEO Ed Martin’s statement that Newfoundland and Labrador is running out of power, and if you believe Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s assertion that doing nothing could lead to power rationing by 2019, then you have no choice but to concur that action must be taken now to ensure that there will be enough power available to meet future need.
And if you’re on side with Mr. Martin and Ms. Dunderdale so far, then you might also reasonably agree with them that the two best, most feasible and workable options to fulfill that demand forecast are either an overhaul and expansion of the generating station in Holyrood, Newfoundland or development of a new hydroelectric project in Muskrat Falls, Labrador.
And if you accept that you must choose between a fossilfuel- burning project with no connection to Labrador or the Maritimes and whose long-term operating costs will be subject to the whims and fluctuations of global supply, if you must choose between that admittedly limited scheme and a project that is less expensive by $2.4 billion, that will generate environmental ly-friendly power (assuming you adhere to accepted wisdom on the subject of greenhouse gas emissions), that will create enough power for on-island need and future Labrador developments, while simultaneously whistling its way past la belle province and plugging into the North American energy grid via Emera, and which puts money back into Newfoundland and Labrador hands rather than some foreign oil tycoon’s, well then—basing everything on the premise that you are actually capable of rational thought—you really don’t have a choice at all, do you?
And yet … and yet … there’s still something that holds you back. What if the price of oil drops so much that Holyrood operating costs are ultimately cheaper than Muskrat Falls? What if Emera backs out and we lose the federal loan guarantee? Will we have more power than we need, at a price we can’t afford? What if there are other options that haven’t been fully explored? What if all the light bulbs in every industrial facility in the province were replaced with LEDs? What if Nalcor-generated power were supplemented with building-specific wind turbines and solar panels? Would that be sufficient to meet Dammed if we do, damned if we don’t projected demand? What if we put a stop to island industrial development? Surely that would resolve the power supply issue. What if we buried our heads in the sand and prayed really hard—would that make all our problems go away? What if … what if we cast our fear aside and dared to invest in ourselves, thereby finally exorcising the ghosts of our ill-fated hydro past?
There is no doubt we are at a pivotal point in time. We have before us the opportunity to select a protectionist type of power development that will take care of one province’s immediate needs, or we can opt for a project of greater vision and scope, one with the capacity to strengthen Eastern Canadian ties and potentially accelerate development in Labrador, both in terms of industrial capacity and community building.
Admittedly, there are risks. But who ever said that life is risk free? There are no guarantees that a university degree will deliver your dream job. No ironclad assurances that your surgery will be free of complications. And, more to this particular point, the Muskrat Falls project may well run over-budget. We may never sell as much power via the Emera link as we would hope. But if we do not try, if we embrace the status quo—not out of reasoned thought, but out of fear—then we have already failed.
When the powers-that-be signed the Upper Churchill agreement with Hydro Quebec in 1969, it was a deal at least partially based in fear. Fear that the project was too big for Newfoundland and Labrador to go alone. Fear that it was beyond our fiscal capacity. There may even have been an unspoken fear that a poor Atlantic Canadian province couldn’t manage and didn’t deserve a project of such magnitude.
No one wants to go down in history as the person who signs this generation’s Upper Churchill agreement. That, more than any other argument, is enough to convince me to support Muskrat Falls.