Nfld. & Labrador

'A sledgehammer to kill a fly': Muskrat Falls critics react to Stan Marshall's project update

Two outspoken critics of the megaproject have cheers and jeers for Stan Marshall's forthright announcements last Friday.
The construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls is seen on July 14, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Two longstanding critics of the Muskrat Falls project have found much to applaud in Nalcor CEO Stan Marshall's update last week, although both say more could be done to mitigate people's concerns.

"It was nice to see some of this freshness come out on Friday. even though we are horrified that we are looking at an $11.4 billion project now," blogger Des Sullivan told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

Marshall's blunt assessment was that Muskrat Falls outstrips the province's energy needs, will almost double ratepayers' electricity bills, and was "not the right choice" for this province.

When asked if he would call the project a boondoggle, he said yes.

"Everyone assumed because it was said by the authorities, it had to be right. Now you have someone of Stan Marshall's calibre, coming to us and saying, sorry guys. this was a boondoggle," Sullivan said.

"[It] is really an institutional admission, that this was a deceptive project from the beginning. And I think this is an admission that needs to be followed up on down the road."

Peaking problem

Similarly, economist and former head of the Public Utilities Board, David Vardy, found cold comfort in having his criticism that Muskrat Falls would be too big for the province's power supply problem validated.

"This project is the wrong project for Newfoundland and Labrador," Vardy told CBC Radio's Central Morning Show.

"We're using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. What we need is a [fly swatter]." 

David Vardy says people will move away from electric heat if power rates rise as sharply as predicted. (iStock)

Vardy said in reality, the province has less of a power shortage and more of what's called a "peaking problem," where people all overload the electrical grid at the same time.

"Three months of the year, we need excess power because of our cold temperatures and high winds," he said.

Vardy said that situation demands managing customers with more than just letting them crank up the thermostat.

"People still need to heat their homes in the winter, but they need to use different technology. This is very inefficient, using electric power."

Vardy added Marshall's warning that power rates will rise dramatically will only add to the oversupply problem.

"There's something called 'demand elasticity' — which means people will substitute other things," said Vardy, predicting a move away from electric heat will also sharply lower revenue.

"The government is going to have to step in and going to have to raise taxes in order to pay for this project."

More information, please

Both Vardy and Sullivan felt Marshall's update should have included making more information public.

"I am looking to make sure that some of the things missing from this project, right from the start, are brought to bear," said Des Sullivan.

"I wanted to hear change."

Sullivan points to unanswered questions about an area of the dam known as the North Spur, which requires large amounts of stabilization. Sullivan would like to see geotechnical experts review that area.

Vardy also expressed concerns about the North Spur, but said he'd like the cost of cancelling Muskrat Falls to be made public.

"I still think the best solution right now is to stop this project while we still can."

With files from the Central Morning Show and the St. John's Morning Show