Nfld. & Labrador

Muskrat inquiry shows ratepayers were taken for granted, consumer advocate says

A theme is developing at the inquiry, according to Dennis Browne.

Dennis Browne says no one asked questions about how electricity consumers were expected to bear rising costs

Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne says Newfoundland and Labrador ratepayers were taken for granted when expected to pay off Muskrat Falls. (Gary Quigley/CBC)

There's a theme developing through the Muskrat Falls inquiry that shows how ratepayers have been taken for granted, according to Newfoundland and Labrador's consumer advocate. 

"All the costs of the project were to be borne by the ratepayers. The ratepayers had up to this point, prior to Muskrat Falls and indeed even today, stable electricity rates," Dennis Browne told CBC Radio's On the Go.

When the Muskrat Falls project was sanctioned, ratepayers were paying roughly 10 cents a kilowatt, according to Browne. Rates are projected to hit 23 cents per kilowatt hour when the project is fully online.

Browne added that no one raised the question as to how electricity customers were exactly expected to cover the cost.

"That's the only contract that they had, was with ourselves. We were ultimately taken for granted, and no one even cared to ask the question, 'At what point will ratepayers leave the system because they are paying too much for electric heat and electric hot water?'" he said. 

'Sturge gave straightforward evidence'

Testimony at the Muskrat Falls inquiry Friday ended on a quiet note, which was quite the contrast to earlier in the week, when Nalcor Energy's vice-president of finance admitted he was out of the loop in key decision-making on the project.

Testimony from Nalcor witnesses is drawing close as part of the Muskrat Falls inquiry. (Nalcor)

Browne said Derrick Sturge gave straightforward evidence.

"What he said was startling. He was the chief financial officer for Nalcor, but yet he was kept out of the loop, according to his own evidence," Browne added.

"By his own admission he didn't seem to be a major player, and that is disturbing."

Testimony to come

Nalcor witnesses, including former president and CEO Ed Martin, will be testifying in December. Martin will be questioned for a full week.

Nalcor executive vice-president Gilbert Bennett will also testify for a full week, starting Nov. 26.

And former premier Kathy Dunderdale will testify for a full week beginning Dec. 17, according to Browne. 

"They will all be given an opportunity, and the body of evidence is being created. We're hearing one side, and the commissioner who will be objective will want to hear from them, and rightfully so," said Browne. 

With files from On the Go

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