Nfld. & Labrador

Ed Martin not shying away as Muskrat Falls inquiry begins

Former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin was very visible on Day 1 of the Muskrat Falls inquiry, despite the fact he won't be testifying until December.

Former Nalcor CEO believes ‘absolutely’ in project, says rate mitigation is possible

Former Nalcor CEO Ed Martin had a very noticeable presence on Day 1 of public hearings for the Muskrat Falls inquiry. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Ed Martin wasn't on the witness stand but he was still front-and-centre as the Muskrat Falls public inquiry began Monday with hearings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The man with the trademark silver hair took notes and looked on intently as an international expert explained how extravagant costs and schedule overruns are more the rule than the exception when it comes to megaprojects, especially hydroelectric projects like Muskrat Falls.

Martin took it all in, more than just a casual observer for an investigation that is attempting to determine whether Muskrat Falls was the right option, and why construction costs have soared by more than $4 billion since it was sanctioned in late 2012.

The Muskrat Falls project was sanctioned in 2012 at a construction cost of $6.2 billion, but has since soared to more than $10 billion. When financing and other costs are factored in, the overall costs is nearly $13 billion. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"Everything we did, what I did on this project, was based on the best interest of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," Martin said after testimony concluded for the day.

Martin served as CEO of the province's energy corporation, Nalcor, until he departed under a cloud more than two years ago.

He's a key figure in the inquiry and will testify before commissioner Richard LeBlanc in December.

His reputation, like those of many others, is on the line as the inquiry probes deep into the decision-making process, and scrutinizes the construction phase, which is now more than 90 per cent complete.

But he's not waiting until his turn in the spotlight. He's putting his chin out there, taking questions and, mostly, giving full answers.

Martin looks at a stage filled the lawyers and other Muskrat Falls inquiry personnel Monday as he enters the Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

He's even travelled to Labrador, where the first two weeks of hearings are taking place.

No apologies. No regrets. Still a strong believer in the long-term benefits of Muskrat Falls, and that it was the best option for the province's power grid.

"Over time you're going to see us get into a situation where we once again (have) some of the lowest (electricity) rates in the country," he said.

He's confident that the options exist to keep power rates affordable, that the province is poised for strong growth because of its vast oil and gas potential and energy resources, and he scoffs at critics who say the only way out of this situation is a bailout from Ottawa.

"I think we've got to stand on our own two feet. This is our project. The resources are there to handle what we have to do. We're extremely well positioned now with having all the power we need," he explained.

But the question remains: what went wrong with Muskrat Falls?

Was Martin and his team overly optimistic about the challenge of building a dam and generating station in Labrador, and transmitting that power over an 1,100-kilometre line to the Avalon Peninsula?

The inquiry heard Monday that "overconfidence bias" is often a factor when megaprojects run into trouble.

But Martin doesn't believe that was the case.

He said there were independent reviews and plenty of oversight "to the best of our ability."

From our perspective, we did the right things as we went.- Ed Martin

When pressed again about why the costs skyrocketed, he replied, "We'll talk about that through the commission. We'll step through it in logical fashion."

"From our perspective, we did the right things as we went," he added.

The lawyers representing the parties with standing at the Muskrat Falls inquiry attended the first day of hearings in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

That statement will certainly be tested during 100 days of public hearings, and Martin plans to speak loud and clear when the times comes.

"If you look at us compared to other projects worldwide … I think some of the things we did managed to keep us at least within a bound … somewhat better than many of the projects worldwide," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and is based in St. John’s. He previously worked for The Telegram, The Compass and The Northern Pen newspapers during a career that began in 1991. He can be reached by email at: Terry.Roberts@cbc.ca.

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