Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has admitted he has no firm timeline for a hydroelectric megaproject he has championed since he took office almost seven years ago.
"Timelines are not finite on this," Williams told the house of assembly Monday, acknowledging that the government does not have a target by which it expects the Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject in Labrador to be up and running.
When the government announced in 2006 that it would develop the $6.5-billion Lower Churchill project on its own, it had been hoping to decide on feasibility in 2009, with first power being drawn as early as 2015.
However, Williams and his government have encountered a series of setbacks.
Last month, Quebec's Régie de l'énergie dismissed Newfoundland and Labrador's complaint that Hydro-Québec was not allowing fair and open access to its transmission lines. A week later, the Quebec Court of Appeal dismissed Newfoundland and Labrador's request for another hearing.
In the legislature, though, Williams cast an optimistic light on the Lower Churchill's chances, particularly as the government examines the feasibility of a sub-sea alternative route that would move power through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
"This is an evolving circumstance because everything is still tied into environmental approval, finalization of the aboriginal piece, but from an economic perspective, we are in a situation where we have enough information to really sit down and talk with any industrial developer at any point in time," Williams said.
Speaking to reporters later, Williams said the government is simply rolling with the punches.
"As we hit certain obstacles, we shift, and we move, and we move forward. So we go one step at a time," Williams said.
Development of the Lower Churchill has been a goal of the Newfoundland and Labrador government since the 1970s, although engineering and other planning for the megaproject has been intense in the last five years.
Questioned about N.B. role
Meanwhile, Williams fended off Opposition allegations that Newfoundland and Labrador has not shared much information with New Brunswick, whose support will be necessary to avoid a transmission route through Quebec.
"I can tell you quite clearly, we have been talking to New Brunswick for some considerable period of time," Williams told the house.
He said while he and Premier Shawn Graham have "discussions at just a general level," energy officials with the two provinces "were into fairly detailed discussions" before New Brunswick pursued an ill-fated deal with Hydro-Québec.
Williams said talks, though, are back on track.
"If I remember correctly, it was last week [I] had a conference call with the Atlantic premiers to discuss Atlantic co-operation with regard to a full Atlantic energy corridor," he said. "That would involve the premiers working together, their departments of energy and or natural resources working together, their deputy ministers, as well as the federal government being involved in putting up money for studies which has already been allocated."
Last week, Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said he supported having power from Labrador land in his province and move to New Brunswick.
Grits ask for more details
Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones said Williams and Nalcor, the Crown-owned energy corporation that is developing the Lower Churchill, should disclose much more information about the project.
"I think it is time to start showing the numbers. It is one thing to continuously say it is feasible, it is another thing to start proving that it is," Jones told the house.
If built as currently proposed, the Lower Churchill project would generate about 2,800 megawatts of power at two sites on the Churchill River, supplying enough power for as many as 1.5 million households.
Williams said the project still makes economic sense, even though a critical question — how exactly power would move to markets in the U.S. and/or central Canada — has not been resolved.
"It is certainly technically feasible, it is economically feasible," Williams said.
"From a perspective of the cost, I can tell you that this particular project is the lowest cost, the cheapest hydroelectric project in all of North America."
Williams has staked much of his career on the development of the Lower Churchill. He has said he is seeking a third term in office to see the project through. The next election is scheduled for October 2011.