Nfld. & Labrador

Protesters seek concrete answers at St. John's rally against Muskrat Falls power hikes

For many in the crowd of around 20 people who stood outside the Confederation Building in St. John's on Saturday, the premier's promise that there will be no rate increases when Muskrat Falls comes online is starting to feel increasingly empty.

Dozens attend protest outside Confederation Building

Keith Fillier and James Murphy of FreeNL want the province to explain exactly how it plans to keep power rates affordable when Muskrat Falls comes online. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

For many in the crowd of around 20 people who stood outside the Confederation Building in St. John's on Saturday, the premier's promise that there will be no rate increases after Muskrat Falls comes online is starting to feel increasingly empty.

"It's like they're trying to do damage control. They're trying to make it appear that they are doing something, when I think more can be done," says Keith Fillier, one of the organizers of the Take Back Your Power rally and a member of FreeNL, a grassroots group protesting electricity hikes.

He said the goal of the rally is to put pressure on the provincial government to establish "fair power rates" and explain how it plans to prevent taxpayers from having to spend more money when repayment begins on the $12.7-billion megaproject.

Rates are expected to increase 23 cents over the next few years — nearly double the current rate — unless mitigation plans are implemented.

"People are feeling anxious about this winter that's coming up … power bills are going to be going up pretty soon, so people are worried about it," said Fillier.

Looking for more details from province

Dwight Ball has promised that ratepayers won't see a price hike on their power bills because of Muskrat Falls, but has yet to explicitly say how he'll accomplish that.

David Vardy speaks out about Muskrat Falls on Saturday at Confederation Building. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Thus far, the premier has only said that the Public Utilities Board has been asked to examine different options to reduce the impact of the hydro project on power rates, and that an interim report will be delivered by February 2019.

Ball himself has acknowledged that without action, the current power rates would double for consumers by 2021.

"If you've got half a plan, why not come out and tell the people you're working on this, you're working on that? Give us some information, why not? Put people at ease," said Fillier.

Many of the people in attendance asked where the money would be coming from to pay off the Muskrat Falls debt if it's not coming from taxpayers.

Seamus O'Regan, Newfoundland and Labrador's representative in the federal cabinet, said earlier this week that the federal government has been holding behind-the-scenes talks with the province about Muskrat Falls. 

But it's unclear thus far what those talks have accomplished.

Fixed incomes can't afford increase: protestor

Daphne Fillier drove for about an hour on Saturday morning to get to the rally from her home in Clarke's Beach.

She said her family simply can't afford to pay double the price for their power.

"I'm a senior citizen and we're on a fixed income, my husband and I, so we can't have any more rate increases. We're just making ends meet now," said Fillier.

Daphne Fillier says the provincial government's promises about protecting ratepayers from the costs of Muskrat Falls are, so far, just that — promises. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

As the Liberals continue to say they're working on a fix to make sure the costs of Muskrat Falls don't get passed down to the people of N.L, Fillier says she isn't holding her breath.

"I've not satisfied with the promises because everybody can make promises and some people, well … they just don't keep them."

Theresa Cook of Outer Cove echoed Fillier's opinion. 

"It's absolutely crucial that people like me are taking the initiative to show some kind of pushback," she said.

"Anyone who has spent the night in a tent with a mosquito will know how much small things do matter, so I hope this is the start of a groundswell of people getting out and showing their support for the people that are organizing it.

Speakers at the event Saturday included Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens' Coalition member David Vardy and NDP MHA Lorraine Michael.

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